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The Moscow Times reports a column by Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko (pictured after his poisoning by pro-Russia forces to block his rise to the presidency) in the Financial Times explaining why he has ordered the Ukrainian parliament to hold new elections. It boils down to this: He wants the people of Urkaine to decide whether Russia will control Ukraine or not, and his rival Victor Yanukovich wants the issue decided in smoke-filled rooms. Take a look at that picture. You can see what Yushchenko is prepared to risk for his country: His life. How about Yanukovich? Will he even risk an election?
The ultimate responsibility of my office is to uphold the constitution and ensure that political affairs are conducted in accordance with its principles. That has always been my overriding priority because Ukraine’s acceptance as a normal European democracy depends on it. It is essential to the realization of our most important national goals.
Ukraine’s young democracy today faces a new and dangerous challenge, one that requires a firm and immediate response. It comes from a ruling coalition that has exceeded its mandate and attempted to monopolize political power, even at the cost of violating the constitution and ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of the Ukrainian people.
Since the new government was formed last summer, I have repeatedly tried to persuade Viktor Yanukovych, the prime minister, to govern in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation. Instead, the ruling coalition has waged a relentless campaign to overturn both the constitutional balance of power and the results of the last parliamentary elections. This situation cannot persist. I have been left with no choice but to dissolve the parliament and to call a fresh round of parliamentary elections for May 27. It is an extreme measure, but it is clear to me that the Ukrainian national interest demands it.
In a democracy, the people must always be the final arbiters of power. Only by trusting in the wisdom of the Ukrainian people can we break this political deadlock and create the consensus necessary for our country to move forward again.
I make no apologies for trying to reach a broad political understanding in the difficult circumstances created by last year’s parliamentary elections. As president, I saw it as my duty to put the long-term interests of Ukraine before personal preference or partisan advantage. I considered it an important test of our political maturity.
It is quite common in advanced democratic societies for elections to produce results that oblige political opponents to govern in partnership. Germany today is governed by a “grand coalition” of left and right. France has experienced periods of “cohabitation.” The U.S. Constitution seems to invite it, with the White House and Congress occupied by different political parties more often than not.
Despite this, these societies remain stable, prosperous and well-governed. In each case the political elites understand that there is something more important at stake than the pursuit of political power. Respecting the wishes of their voters, they seek to share power in the national interest.
Of course ideas and policies are contested and debated, often in very robust terms. But all sides observe limits in order to prevent political competition from damaging the fabric of democratic life. When that becomes a risk, they choose compromise instead of confrontation. Above all, they respect their own constitutions and maintain the checks and balances essential to prevent monopolistic abuses of power.
It was in that spirit that I reached out to Mr. Yanukovych after it became clear that the Orange parties would not be able to form a majority coalition last summer. After everything that had happened before, no one should be in any doubt that it was a very difficult personal decision to make. But it was also one that I firmly believed to be in Ukraine’s best interests.
As part of that process, I negotiated a declaration of national unity in order to bind the president and government to a common platform setting out coherent and realizable goals in line with the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. It was on the basis of that historic compromise that I hoped to consolidate Ukraine’s democratic transformation.
It is with great regret that I have to say the spirit of reconciliation and compromise required to make that arrangement a success has not been reciprocated by the ruling coalition. They have consistently acted in bad faith. Instead of respecting the agreement to share power, they have sought to undermine it by grabbing more power for themselves at every opportunity and with every means available. Instead of respecting the wishes of the Ukrainian people expressed freely at the ballot box, they have used subterfuge to alter the parliamentary balance in an entirely undemocratic manner.
These are not the actions of responsible democrats. They reflect attitudes and behavior that the Ukrainian people had every reason to believe had been consigned to our past. Instead, it seems that we must fight and defeat them once again.
For me, this is a matter of supreme national importance. If Ukraine is to be recognized as an integral part of the community of European democracies, it is imperative that this crisis is resolved in line with our own constitutional principles. How can we be trusted to respect the rule of international law if we cannot respect the rule of law at home?
I hope Mr. Yanukovych will come to see that new elections are the only appropriate way to resolve this crisis. Genuine democrats should never fear the verdict of the people. Only those who remain stubbornly attached to the old ways should want our political future to be decided by intrigues and backroom deals. Ukraine needs to show that it has left all that behind.
Vedemosti analyzes the situation as follows, as also reported in the MT:
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s proclivity toward compromise has led politicians and analysts alike to dismiss him as weak. Perhaps this helped prompt him to take a firm stand in ordering the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.
The constant squabbling between Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and the parliament has created a situation of permanent political crisis. The current division of authority between the president and the government was supposed to make the system more democratic and effective. Instead, it has degenerated into a power vacuum. Everyone is interested in getting power rather than responsibly exercising it.
But we shouldn’t be quick to compare the situation in Ukraine to that in Russia in 1993. There is little likelihood of the use of force here. The events of the Orange Revolution and the government’s firing last year both passed without resorting to arms, and Yushchenko is willing to negotiate over just about anything. He is able to talk with Yanukovych reasonably and with his former comrade in arms, Yulia Tymoshenko, without accusing her of being a traitor. His chief goal is to maintain authority in order to carry out his own foreign policies.
The big word in Ukrainian politics of late has been “usurpation.” But usurpation is not really the question — it’s more like the resumption of important negotiations in new conditions. Yushchenko is trying to convince the governing coalition and Yanukovych that their power is not unlimited.
Yushchenko’s abrupt move may be based on a compromise with Tymoshenko. The popularity of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party is falling, and Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko might grab many more votes this time around, so the dissolution of the parliament works in her favor. This is important because the notorious bill the government introduced to strengthen its powers only overcame a presidential veto thanks to support from Tymoshenko’s bloc. Helping the coalition usurp presidential powers only triggered Yushchenko’s order to dissolve the parliament. Tymoshenko is in place to pick up more power as it falls from the hands of her competitors.
The Constitutional Court still has to decide whether the presidential order is constitutional. There are serious doubts whether the reason for the order — the formation of a parliamentary majority on the basis of individual deputies rather than parties — is sufficient. But without elections, the numbers will remain the same. Yanukovych cannot expect any more help from Tymoshenko, so there will be no way to override a presidential veto. This means returning to the negotiating table.
And that is where Yushchenko’s willingness to seek compromises works in his favor.
The Moscow Times reports that the Russian Army is running out of potential conscripts. Once again, it’s shown to be far more dangerous to itself than any foreign army.
The government may soon have to eliminate all exemptions from military service in order to maintain the armed forces at full strength as the number of draft-age men continues to decline, activists said Wednesday. “2011 will be a bust in terms of conscription,” military affairs journalist Alexander Golts said at the presentation of a report on conscription prepared last year by the interregional Soldiers’ Mothers movement — which is distinct from the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committees — and 23 other nongovernmental organizations, Interfax reported. Golts said that in 2011 the military’s conscription quota would be 400,000, with only 712,000 18-year-olds from whom to draw. Many will be exempt from the draft unless the government eliminates existing exemptions, such as those for university students, he said. “We believe that military recruitment and enlistment offices will have to abandon all of the exemptions” to cope with the shortage of able-bodied conscripts, Golts said. The report focuses primarily on violations of conscripts’ rights. Researchers in seven regions found that conscripts denied valid exemptions accounted for 12 percent of all violations, while cases of recruitment officers misleading conscripts accounted for another 19 percent. The most common violation — 22 percent of the total — was the failure of doctors at enlistment stations to take full account of the state of conscripts’ health. Draft-dodging is common in this country, and is motivated by a variety of factors, including the fear of violence or even death in hazing incidents committed by older service personnel. In Moscow alone, more than 3,000 men have avoided the ongoing spring conscription campaign, the city’s chief recruitment officer, General Anatoly Khryachkov, told reporters on Wednesday, Interfax reported.
Robert Amsterdam continues his brilliant and heroic work providing the world with translated accounts from inside neo-Soviet Russia documenting the horrors of the neo-Soviet crackdown. Here, he translates the account of Stanislav Markelov (pictured left), identified as victim of oppression by Amnesty International, regarding the horrific process known as “filtration” by which the KGB deals with undesirables.
THE CHECHNYA SYNDROME AND THE BLAGOVESHCHENSK CASE
By Stanislav Markelov
After the end of the case of the Cadet, OMON officer S.V. Lapin, sentenced for the first time directly in the city of Grozny of the Chechen Republic to 11 years of deprivation of liberty for a crime against a peaceful citizen, I came into the case of the mass beating of peaceful citizens in the city of Blagoveshchensk of the Republic of Bashkortostan by officers of the police, as the lawyer representing the side of the victims.
The “Blagoveshchensk case” turned out to be the most prominent and largest example of the spread of the Chechnya syndrome throughout other regions of Russia. Along with the length and the mass character of the crimes, the beating lasted 4 days, had an unmotivated character, extended to the entire city and nearby villages, and involved significant police forces, including some that had previously served in Chechnya. A very large number of victims (officially 342, realistically over 1000). A punitive mechanism known as “filtration”, which has been widely encountered in Chechnya, was officially used during the course of this “mopping up operation”.
Officially, by order of the police superiors, a “filtration point” was created on the territory of the former Blagoveshchensk sobering-up station. All detainees were brought here, forcibly detained here, beaten and abused. The police refused to notify relatives or lawyers about the detentions.
Until the “Blagoveshchensk case”, despite the wide spread of the practice of filtration, on a single official had ever admitted the existence of filtration points.
For the first time, in the “Blagoveshchensk case”, a document was uncovered on the basis of which the “filtration points” were created and “police mopping-up operations” were conducted. This is the secret order of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] of Russia No. 870 of 10 September 2003. According to it, the police invented for itself the concept of an “extraordinary circumstance”, which does not exist in Russian law. This concept includes practically all events that substantially impact the lives of people, society, and the state. Such a wording allows the police to introduce emergency measures of a police character arbitrarily, at the pleasure of the MVD forces themselves, even without informing the citizenry of this.
In addition to this, the order officially entrenches the concept of “filtration point”, which also does not exist in Russian law. This allows police officers to apply practically any unauthorized unlawful methods, without bearing any liability whatsoever for this. So it was that in the Blagoveshchensk case the organs of the procuracy acknowledged the fact that citizens had been unlawfully deprived of liberty in the “filtration point”, but refused to file charges against police officers on the basis of this fact. The court appeal of this order and complaints to the Procuracy-General and to the Ministry of Justice ended without result.
During the course of the trial, a multitude of facts were uncovered of pressure having been applied to the most active victims, including attempts to buy them off and threats of physical violence. The procuracy did initiate a separate criminal case based on the given facts, recognizing their authenticity, but the court refused to arrest any one of the persons who had been charged.
At the present time, the “Blagoveshchensk case” has been returned from the court back to preliminary investigation, because the court could not cope with the huge volume of the case. Attempts to appeal this unlawful return were likewise rejected under the pretext of “expediency”. Now all of the police officers who had been charged are at liberty and remain at their posts, including the chief of police in the city of Blagoveshchensk.
The question of the safety of victims, witnesses, and lawyers is one of the painful ones for Chechnya as well. Despite the obvious reduction in the number of direct military confrontations, the local population still does not know such a concept as court. All judicial proceedings in Chechnya are resolved either by way of a bribe, or through revenge by the aggrieved party. Hence, functioning in reality as of today in Chechnya is either “the law of the machine gun” or “the law of the bribe”. Local inhabitants have already forgotten what an investigative process or a trial is, inasmuch as over the past 15 years only law surrogates such as military field courts, sharia courts, and others have existed there.
The case of the “Cadet” S.V. Lapin remains the only case that was initiated for a crime in Chechnya, considered by a court in the city of Grozny, and attained a real verdict. This case became a significant socio political event in the Republic in general. The court sessions were attended by dozens of peaceful inhabitants who had no direct relation to the case and marvelled at the very idea that independent judicial proceedings could be taking place in Chechnya.
Even the consideration of the Budanov case and the Ulman case did not have such an impact on the situation in Chechnya, inasmuch as the judicial proceedings took place far from the territory of Chechnya (in the city of Rostov-on-Don).
It is characteristic that during the course of the trial, the defendant enjoyed every opportunity to defend himself, namely: he had his own lawyer of his own choosing, he actively presented his evidence, and no pressure was put on either him or his lawyer during the course of the trial, which they themselves acknowledged.
The guilty verdict and the punishment rendered in the form of 11 years of deprivation of liberty became an important precedent in Russian law in general, inasmuch as unlike the previously had practice, destruction of the corpse of the deceased did not become grounds for avoiding criminal liability.
For Chechnya, this case also turned out to be precedent-setting in connection with the fact that the father of the deceased Zelimkhan Murdalov, Astimir Murdalov, turned for redress not to armed structures, but to official legal institutions, albeit after a lengthy time and significant difficulties, but he did manage to achieve justice.
The conducting of the first precedent-setting case in Chechnya aroused a mass reaction of approval by the peaceful inhabitants and dissatisfaction both on the part of the Russian “hawks” and on the part of the separatists. The former did not like the very fact of the sentencing of an officer for the commission of a crime against a Chechen, the latter did not like the real precedent of the application of Russian law on the territory of Chechnya, and the possibility of resolving the conflict through the Russian court system, inasmuch as many of them proceed from the position that “the worse things are, the better”.
After the S.V. Lapin’s verdict entered into legal force, it became possible to attain the initiation of a new criminal case, this time with respect to his immediate superiors – major A.S. Prilepin (at the present time he has resigned from the organs) and lieutenant-colonel V.A. Minin (likewise resigned from the organs after the case was initiated). As of the given moment, they both are evading contact with the investigative organs and have been declared international fugitives.
Unfortunately, these precedents have yet to lead to the mass appearance of such cases. The legal situation that has evolved in Chechnya remains firmly entrenched. Lawyers from other regions are afraid to work in Chechnya directly, and prefer to access only international institutions (the Strasbourg court and other such institutions). Because of the orientation exclusively on the European Court of Human Rights, local inhabitants have gotten the impression that the Strasbourg court is the last instance examining a case on its merits, that is capable of determining the presence of guilt, the formal components of the crime, establish punishment, etc.
The existence of such a myth, in addition to this, leads to a weakening of public pressure on the Russian legal structures in Chechnya. On the other hand, the lawyers and jurists working on “Chechen cases”, having achieved the right of direct recourse to the Strasbourg court, bypassing the judicial instances in the CR, have ended up being uninterested in the reestablishment of a full-fledged judicial system there. As a result, a whole cohort of lawyers and jurists has appeared who have declared of their specialization in Chechen matters yet never have worked in Chechnya itself.
Local lawyers, unfortunately, remain extremely corrupt, and are in the main end up being intermediaries in the passing of bribes to the investigator and the judge. An insignificant quantity of honest lawyers still does not have serious work experience and are forced to constantly subject themselves to physical danger (5 lawyers have died in Chechnya in recent years).
The situation with the human rights movement in Chechnya looks no less problematic. On the whole, more than 240 human rights organizations are registered in the CR; of these, only one or two are really functioning; it is unknown what the rest are engaged in. In addition to this, representatives of international and Russian human rights organizations are constantly found in Chechnya. Despite the saturation in the republic of various kinds of human rights defenders, their activity is extremely one-sided and can be reduced to the conducting of seminars and monitoring. In the absolute majority of instances, such forms of activity represent the laundering of monetary funds (grants) that have been received. However, even in instances of the actual conducting of such undertakings, they become in Chechnya clearly insufficient. The gathering of information without an attempt to impact on the situation in the republic does not improve the situation with human rights in any way, and at the same time also creates a real danger for the sources of the information. The conducting of conferences and seminars dedicated to the problems of Chechnya has any kind of resultativity at all in the event of a discussion of concrete work methodologies in this region. Unfortunately, the absolute majority of human rights seminars is in no way connected with practical activity.
On the other hand, despite the reduction in the number of direct armed confrontations, the state of the law enforcement organs of Chechnya remains catastrophic. The organs of the procuracy consist for the most part of cadres sent in for a short term from other regions, who obtain their next official callings and do not delve into the situation in the republic. Instead of carrying out oversight functions, the procuracy in Chechnya in the main engages in attempts to “push aside” the multitude of complaints and statements about crimes committed.
Besides the problems indicated above, also characteristic of the police structures in Chechnya is the presence of units oriented exclusively at the application of torture and the beating out of testimony (the ORB – the branch for investigating banditism). In addition to this, present in Chechnya is the practice of private jails (zindans) and a multitude of armed formations having an incomprehensible legal status (the Kadyrovites, Gantemirovites, and others). Formally found under federal subordination, they are controlled only by their commanders and periodically conflict with one another, up to and including armed skirmishes.
In recent times, the fears of the peaceful inhabitants are gradually increasing with respect to separatist groupings and are somewhat decreasing with respect to the federal troop structures, because, first, the number of federal troops in Chechnya has noticeably decreased, and second, a rotation of cadres is taking place in the Russian units, and now persons who had earlier not participated in the armed conflict and who do not have resentment against the local population are serving there, while the composition of the armed formations of separatists remains the same as before. The greatest number of violations as of today’s moment is characteristic of the activity of the local armed formations of quasi-federal subordination.
In order to really conduct legal work in Chechnya at the present time, what is needed is the use of a local initiative group comprised on the one hand of professional jurists and lawyers, and on the other of human rights advocates and, working together with them, professional lawyers and jurists from Moscow or other Russian regions. Such a combination will allow work in Chechnya to be improved on the basis of the examination of real cases, and not endless seminars and monitorings. Likewise the recruitment of experienced professional legal cadres will allow the training of young jurists and lawyers to be carried out directly in Chechnya during the course of conducing cases. At the present moment, the personnel makeup for carrying out the given work has already been picked.
The concurrent appealing of unlawful internal normative acts of agencies in the “Blagoveshchensk case” will allow for the liquidation of the legal grounds for the mass application of illicit actions by the law-enforcement organs, both in Chechnya and in other regions of Russia.
Following the NATO invasion of Yugoslavia to depose genocidal madman, and beloved Russian little brother, Slobodon Milosovic, the coalition parties are negotiating over the fate of Kosovo. Russia, for some reason, is a party to the talks even though it opposed and obstructed the action in the first place. The Jamestown Foundation’s brilliant analyst Vladimir Socor explains how Russia is using the question of Kosovo to leverage its position on many other issues of Russian imperialism:
To continue freezing the resolution of the four post-Soviet secessionist conflicts, Russia needs a fifth frozen conflict in Kosovo and a linkage to make resolution of one dependent on resolution of the others. At the same time, Moscow hopes that a linkage policy could lead to breakthroughs by means of tradeoffs, whereby Russia could sacrifice its clients in one conflict for a free hand in settling another on its own terms.
On a parallel agenda, Russia hopes to retain and expand a foothold of strategic influence in the Balkans by resuscitating Greater-Serbian nationalism in Belgrade over Kosovo. Moscow hopes to close off Serbia’s prospects of partnership and association with the European Union, drawing that country toward closer reliance on Russia.
The international negotiations on the status of Kosovo are now moving into the endgame phase, with the EU and NATO on the cusp of a solution that could guarantee stability and Europeanization in Kosovo and the Western Balkans. At this juncture, Russia’s top priority is simply to stall the negotiating process, without prejudging its ultimate outcome, and not ruling out any type of solution on Kosovo’s status.
On March 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush by telephone that any solution on Kosovo’s status must be accepted by Belgrade as well as Pristina and approved by the UN Security Council (UNSC) (Interfax, March 28). In practice, this means awarding Serbia a veto regarding the further course of negotiations (or indeed their continuation as such) and holding any solution hostage to Russian approval in the UNSC. To all intents and purposes, Moscow is delegating its veto power to Belgrade in the UN-mediated negotiations while threatening to exercise its own veto in the UNSC on Serbia’s behalf.
To string out the process, Moscow has joined Belgrade in rejecting UN Mediator Martti Ahtisaari’s report on Kosovo’s status. The document recommends a status very close to independence with international recognition, time-limited international supervision, and clear prospects for full-fledged independence and close relations with the EU. For its part, Russia calls for the start of new negotiations under another UN mediator.
The United States and European Union have endorsed the Ahtisaari plan, as has UN Secretary-General Ba Ki Moon. Western support enabled Ahtisaari to up the ante against Moscow on March 26, announcing, “The potential for negotiations has been exhausted,” and using for the first time the word “independence” to define Kosovo’s status under his Western-approved plan (Ahtisaari’s initial report had stopped short of using the word “independence,” but was rejected by Russia regardless) (Interfax, March 26, 27).
Moscow certainly calculates that blocking the process might trigger potentially violent protests by some Albanian groups against UN and EU authorities in Kosovo and possibly also riots targeting minority Serbs, which may require locally stationed NATO troops to intervene for maintaining order. Any such turbulence would then enable Russia to argue — and win some support from certain wavering European governments for this argument — that Kosovo does not meet the standards for recognition of its independence and that the process must again be postponed. This, too, could become a prescription for freezing the Kosovo conflict — or perhaps a prelude for Moscow to seek tradeoffs.
The EU is well advanced in its preparations to take over from the UN the exercise of international authority in Kosovo, with NATO retaining responsibility for security. The Ahtisaari report as well as EU planning envisage a 120-day transition from UN protectorate to independent state under EU supervision, then two or three years of “supervised independence” post-recognition, with the EU mentoring Kosovo’s institutions of governance. Anticipating the risks of unrest in the event that Russia and Serbia force a postponement of the solution, the EU is prepared to enlarge its responsibility for policing and the judiciary in Kosovo.
Under an internal report just circulated under the imprint of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, the EU is about to embark on its largest-ever civilian crisis-management mission, with up to 1,500 personnel for at least two years in Kosovo. Meanwhile, NATO will continue providing the hard security in Kosovo, with troops mostly from European member countries of the alliance as well as the U.S. base in Kosovo at Camp Bondsteel. NATO takes the position that its Kosovo presence is an open-ended one.
For its part, Russia threatens to veto any kind of solution on Kosovo’s status at this time. Instead, it aims for stalemate and lumping settlement in Kosovo with settlement of the post-Soviet conflicts. Such linkage would enable Moscow to use one negotiating process to obstruct or manipulate the other negotiating processes, either prolonging all of them indefinitely or offering concessions in one theater to obtain satisfaction in other theaters.
While the United States and the European Union reject any such linkage as baseless, Russia seeks to convert several EU and NATO member countries to the linkage thesis by exploiting variously their fears or ambitions. Discomfiting its post-Soviet secessionist clients, Moscow tilts clearly toward settlements ostensibly based on the territorial integrity of states at this stage, when its top priority is to win over Serbia as strategic ally while consolidating the gains already achieved in the post-Soviet conflicts.