20 articles found:

Russian pundits speculate on make-up of future government

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union | No Byline — Monday 12th March, 2012


Russian experts believe that members of the country's administrative elite, governors and current presidential administration members as well as representatives of All-Russia People's Front could join the country's new cabinet of ministers, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on 11 March.

Political scientist Vladimir Slatinov said that Russia "does not have clear and transparent mechanisms of forming the government because such is the peculiarity of our political system: the power system in our country is personalistic and personnel decisions are also of such a personalistic nature".

Slatinov added that there would be a renewal and that the authorities would not be able to refrain from it after making numerous promises.

He said that new people would be drawn from the "political-administrative elite".

Slatinov went on to say that a part of the appointments would be a "compromise between Putin and Medvedev's views and the lobbying of certain candidates by interested groups".

He added: "This is especially true for the energy, communications, industry and natural resources ministries since they have a substantial significance for lobbyists, and, certainly, they will try to somehow affect the appointment process. I do not exclude that these ministers will appear from corresponding interested groups and even large companies."

Furthermore, members of professional associations that joined the All-Russia People's front could also appear in the cabinet of ministers, Slatinov said.

In addition, Slatinov said that parliamentary opposition parties A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia could be rewarded for recognizing the presidential election and their representatives could also end up in posts in federal services and agencies.

In turn, political scientist Sergey Markov said that new cabinet members would be drawn "from the previous government and the presidential administration as well as from among governors and One Russia Party members".

Markov added that State Duma Speaker Andrey Vorobyev or head of the State Duma Committee on labour and social policy Andrey Isayev could join the new government.

He said that the head of the Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies, which developed the All Russia People's Front programme, Nikolay Fedorov, and head of Putin's headquarters Stanislav Govorukhin may find a place in the cabinet.

Meanwhile, director general of the Political Information Centre Aleksey Mukhin said that "the new government will have two cores" with Putin's people forming its backbone and Medvedev's people filling the rest. He said that the new cabinet could include presidential adviser Mikhail Abuzov, presidential aide Arkadiy Dvorkovich and former Kaliningrad Region governor Georgiy Boos.

Source: RIA Novosti news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1040 gmt 11 Mar 12

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Russian protest movement on way out - state news agency

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union | No Byline — Monday 12th March, 2012


Excerpt from report by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti

Moscow, 10 March: The second rally, which the opposition staged [on Novyy Arbat Street in Moscow on 10 March] in the wake of the presidential election the results of which it does not accept, has ended in the same way as the first one - with the detention of Sergey Udaltsov, coordinator of the Left Front [radical left-wing movement], who decided to "break through" from Novyy Arbat towards Pushkinskaya Square.

The rally on Saturday [10 March] differed from the first one in that the speakers there were different - there were fewer well-known people. The demands and slogans, however, remained the same - to cancel the election results and change the authorities. At the same time, the future tactics of the opposition forces have still not been defined. Working out a joint strategy has been made more difficult by the diversity of the political forces representing the united opposition. There is also no consensus regarding methods of struggle. Far from everyone support radical calls for putting up tents and staging unauthorized rallies.

Udaltsov says that protest rallies should continue. According to him, several rallies may be staged before the president's inauguration in May. At the same time, according to him, it can't be ruled out that the struggle for fair elections may turn into a civil disobedience campaign and "sooner or later one will have to put up tents".

For his part, [leader of the Yabloko liberal opposition party Sergey] Mitrokhin categorically rejects the idea of tents and regards it as a provocation.

Co-chairman of the Solidarity [opposition] movement Ilya Yashin denies there is a split - according to him, "there are just some 'altercations', i.e. some demands to each other".

Experts, for their part, point out that the number of protesters is falling. According to them, the opposition needs to change not just its agenda but the whole of its modus operandi.

The opposition should try to "penetrate" the authorities' grass-root level and develop cells at regional and local levels - it may be sad to switch from carnival to this routine work but there is no other way out, they say.

New Arbat, old scenario

It was difficult to get authorization for the 10 March rally owing to the situation which evolved after the opposition rally on Pushkinskaya Square on 5 March. The latter ended with 250 people, who remained in the square after the rally ended, being detained. Those detained included Left Front coordinator Sergey Udaltsov, blogger Aleksey Navalnyy and Solidarity co-chairman Ilya Yashin. On Wednesday [7 March] the Moscow mayor's office confirmed authorization for an opposition rally on 10 March on the odd side of Novyy Arbat [New Arbat] Street but warned the organizers of the inadmissibility of a repetition of the 5 March situation on Pushkinskaya Square.

The organizers expected up to 50,000 people to take part in the rally. The authorities assigned the pedestrian part and the parking area on the odd side of Novyy Arbat to the protesters.

According to GUVD [Main Directorate of Internal Affairs], at its peak at 1400 hours there were about 10,000 people at the rally, including 8,000 directly by the stage and about 2,000 people concentrated on territory cordoned off for the rally by the police.

According to the organizers of the rally, the police underestimate the turnout at the rally. According to politician [co-chairman of the unregistered opposition Party of People's Freedom, (Parnas)] Vladimir Ryzhkov, at least 25,000 people gathered on Novyy Arbat. Another opposition politician, Dmitriy Gudkov, suggested that the protesters moved to the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] main directorate, so that the police could correctly count the protesters.

The press service of the main directorate criticized the figures of the opposition which claimed that it had gathered about 30,000 people. [passage omitted]

Same demands, plus Kozlov

The rally was addressed by observers who monitored the 4 March presidential election among whom were politicians, civil activists, journalists and bloggers. They told about the violations and falsifications which they had come across at polling stations on voting day.

There were some well-known people among the speakers - for instance, actor Maksim Vittorgan and TV presenter Kseniya Sobchak - as well as people who were given the floor for the first time, including self-nominated candidates elected in their municipal districts.

Opposition politician [co-chairman of Parnas] Boris Nemtsov could not take part in the rally on Saturday - co-chairman of Parnas Vladimir Ryzhkov told RIA Novosti that Nemtsov was ill.

Blogger Aleksey Navalnyy, who came to Novyy Arbat, this time did not address the rally and stayed among the crowd, not on stage.

Opening the rally, one of the organizers, Vladimir Ryzhkov, said that the parliamentary and presidential elections had been neither free nor fair and that the opposition forces had a ready political programme and intended to demand further changes to Russia's political system. According to him, the opposition is being accused of having no clear political programme but this is not true.

"We shall continue demanding the freedom of speech, new parliamentary and presidential elections in line with new legislation. We also demand that censorship must be abolished and political prisoners released," Ryzhkov said.

The opposition added a new demand concerning businessman Aleksey Kozlov who has been accused of fraud. Participants in the rally adopted a decision to demand that the authorities stop the unlawful, in their opinion, prosecution of Kozlov and carry out judicial reform. They called on their supporters to come to Presnenskiy Court at 1000 [0600 gmt] on Monday [11 March] to support Kozlov and his wife, journalist Olga Romanova. The opposition members were chanting "We demand fair trial" and "Hands off Kozlov".

Kozlov's case has been one of the most high-profile cases of recent years. According to the businessman and his wife, Olga Romanova, the case was fabricated. They have had the guilty verdict overturned by the Supreme Court.

Until new rallies

Opposition leader Sergey Udaltsov has called on all those who disagree with the results of the Duma and presidential elections in Russia to stage on 1 May a mass march in Moscow and to try and gather one million people. He has also said that he is not going to leave the rally venue as soon as it ends. I am often accused of calling for certain actions but this time I am not going to call for anything, he explained. [passage omitted]

"Today we must realize that on 4 March our campaign for fair elections ended and the campaign for legitimate authorities began," Udaltsov said.

For his part, Ryzhkov said: "The inauguration (of the president of Russia) will take place on 7 May and this could be a good date. Together we will plan and stage a new protest rally."

He recalled that the first protest rally had taken place exactly three months ago but that the opposition forces so far had failed to have the authorities meet their demands, therefore protest rallies would continue.

According to Parnas co-chairman Mikhail Kasyanov, the next rally should be staged on the day of the president's inauguration.

"I believe that after this rally we should stage rallies on 7 May and 12 June... We do not believe that Putin was elected legitimately, so we should protest against this (inauguration). We also have 12 June - Day of Russia, the day Russia, under the constitution, became a democratic country. This is also a day for us to demand that the authorities respect our rights," he said.

"Time to go to the people"

The Russian opposition should change its methods and develop cells at local and regional levels, according to the general director of the National Strategy Council, Valeriy Khomyakov.

"They need to change not just their agenda but the whole of their modus operandi," he told RIA Novosti on Saturday.

In his opinion, the main problem of the opposition is that "the top level is not trying to penetrate the grass-root level". In particular, in Moscow members of the opposition took practically no part in local elections, the politician analyst said.

"Therefore, now the opposition needs, apart from staging rallies and mass events, get involved in work that is not easy, that is routine and invisible - i.e. to develop cells at the regional and local levels. One needs to create movements that later can be transformed into parties," Khomyakov said.

"Then, the leaders and organizers of the protest movement would have some foundation at the local and regional levels. Otherwise, the gap between the leaders of the opposition movement on stage and those who are listening to them will continue to grow. As a result, the opposition will be marginalized with all the consequences. Therefore it is time 'to go to the people'," according to Khomyakov.

According to the head of Strategy-2020 Foundation, Mikhail Remezov, the protest movement could try to form authorities in big cities where it has the biggest support.

"With this being achieved, the protest movement in the old format would cease to exist because this would be already a task for leaders and parties that would march in different columns. The ideological unity which emerged last December would inevitably fall apart because, in its transition to the stage of political struggle, the protest movement would inevitably break into different party columns with some people moving away altogether because the lion share of citizens who support the protest movement are in principle neither ready nor have any intention of going into politics," he said.

In the opinion of the political analyst, "the main task of the opposition now is to create an alternative to the incumbent authorities". "This alternative could be created only by becoming the authorities themselves at levels that are available. This work is different, it is more routine," Remizov said.

According to him, "it is sad for the opposition to move from carnival to routine but there is no other way". "The falling numbers at mass rallies and their changing tonality show that the protest movement has ended, which means that it is moving to a new stage, the stage of routine work," the expert said.

Source: RIA Novosti news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1455 gmt 11 Mar 12

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How a mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St Petersburg polling station: a citizen observer reports; Election monitors across Russia reported alleged vote fixing in the presidential poll. Irina Levinskaya, a St Petersburg historian, gives her eye-witness account of how she saw it happen.

The Telegraph Online | By Irina Levinskaya — Sunday 11th March, 2012


After Russia's parliamentary elections in December, it was impossible for anyone in my country not to know that there had been electoral fraud on a massive scale. But I am a historian and obsessed with verifying information for myself.

For that reason I joined the more than 3,000 citizens in St Petersburg who committed themselves to monitoring last week's presidential election.

In training sessions, lawyers explained the kinds of irregularities that might occur and how to avert - or at least to record - them. They lectured us on the relevant laws and regulations. They told us how to prevent ballot stuffing and how to detect "carousel voting", when people vote more than once.

"But remember," they warned on several occasions. "The members of the electoral commission are not your enemies: think positively about them and don't forget the presumption of innocence."

I was allocated to Polling Station No. 1015 on Moskovsky Avenue in the south of St Petersburg. It was in a special school for excluded children and the head of the election commission was a social-worker-cum-teacher at the school.

Natalya Dmitriyeva was a kindly-looking, smiling woman in her mid-fifties: the sort of person you'd imagine to be perfect for rehabilitating our city's excluded youth.

Such teachers, according to the school's website, "prevent youth crime and teach individual responsibility and freedom".

I arrived at 7.30am on March 4. In all, we were 11 observers from all walks of life and of all ages, including three young women students. We stayed at the polling station all day and well into the evening, when the votes for the five presidential candidates were counted.

At 10.30pm, the final count was made. The results astonished me: Putin had come first but with only 466 votes - 47.7 per cent of the vote. Second was the billionare Mikhail Prokhorov with an unexpected 226 votes (23.1 per cent ). Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party, received 176 votes (18 per cent) and came third in this particular district.

Since most of the voters had been of the Soviet generation, I had assumed that the old habit of dutifully voting for the leaders (combined with aggressive pro-Putin television propaganda during the last few months and coercion in many state institutions) would have given a clear majority to Putin, with Zyuganov in second place.

Ms Dmitriyeva, the senior official, wrote up the results on the wall in large figures, as required by law. I took a photograph of the document. Now, all that remained was for her to make copies for each of us. This was so that the figures could not be falsified at a higher level, as had happened during the parliamentary elections.

Our job seemed to be over. We had spent more than 15 hours at Polling Station 1015. During that time, we had not seen a single irregularity. We were very pleased with how things had gone. Everything had been carried out in strict accordance with the law.

By now it was nearing midnight. Ms Dmitriyeva went off to copy the official documents. And this was when things began to go wrong. Exhausted after a long and tense day, it didn't occur to us to go with her. Our vigilance slipped.

The sweet, smiling, kindly-looking teacher went off and didn't come back. We waited and waited. I went to look for her but she had vanished. Now, I remembered with horror what we'd been warned of by our lawyers: "Don't let the head of the commission out of your sight at the final stage."

It was some time before another member of the commission appeared (we never saw Ms Dmitriyeva again) with a sheaf of papers in his hand. "You wanted copies of the official results? Here they are."

"Thank goodness!" I thought. I grabbed a copy of the document, checked that all formalities had been complied with – the official stamp, signature in the right place and so on - then unfolded it.

I couldn't believe what I saw: Putin – 780 votes (80.2 per cent); Zyuganov 83 votes (8.5 per cent); and Prokhorov 32 votes (3.3 per cent). I was horrified.

I'll never forget the shock on the faces of the three young students: someone, though we could not know who, had falsified the ballot.

The member of the commission who had handed us the falsified papers was still in the building and so we waited at the exit to confront him. But he appeared to have taken precautions and phoned for support.

Suddenly, a Nissan Pathfinder drew up and three thick-set, young men with shaven heads leapt out. Pushing us forcefully aside, they escorted the commission member to the car and drove off.

I wrote down the number-plate and later established it was from a series used for official cars carrying government employees with the right to state security.

Next day we learned that the same car, and the same men, had been seen at other polling stations, either throwing out observers or escorting election officials.

Of course, this will not be the end of it. Immediately, we went to the constituency level election commission but its chairman had also vanished.

The following day, we filed a complaint and next week we will hand a witness statement, with all our documentary evidence, to the prosecutor's office - along with hundreds of others from the St Petersburg district.

I am not confident of success, however: I have years of experience, not only of Putin's Russia but also of our former Soviet paradise. The difference between them is growing harder and harder to determine.

Dr Irina Levinskaya is a senior fellow of St Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University's Centre for Advanced Theological Research

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Thousands demonstrate against Putin but numbers down significantly

The Sunday Independent (Ireland) | No Byline — Sunday 11th March, 2012


Thousands of Russians chanting "Time for change" challenged Vladimir Putin's presidential election victory yesterday but their numbers were far fewer than previously.

Moscow demonstrators wore white ribbons, a symbol of protests that began three months ago. Echoing chants from other rallies, they shouted: "Russia without Putin."

"The road will be long and hard, it will be no quick struggle, but we will do it all. Russia will be free -- Russia demands change," liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky told the crowd of 25,000. Police estimated the crowd at 10,000 and independent witnesses put it at under 20,000.

Italian tanker crew winched to safety

THE crew of an Italian tanker was evacuated by helicopter yesterday after the ship ran aground off Sicily in stormy seas, and took on water in its engine. All aboard were plucked to safety, despite fierce gusts of wind and rain.

The Gelso M, with an all-Italian crew, was caught on a reef near the port town of Syracuse. The ship had come to rest at such an angle that it was impossible to lower lifeboats, or for rescue vessels to approach.

Sarkozy narrows gap vs Socialists

French incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy last week narrowed the gap with Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande in his bid for re-election, said a poll.

Mr Sarkozy would gather 27 per cent of the votes -- up 1.5 points -- and Mr Hollande would poll a similar 29 per cent in a first round of the April 22 election. The poll for Paris Match magazine showed support for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen down 1.5 points to 17 per cent.

In the May 6 run-off second round of the election between the two leading candidates of the first round, Mr Sarkozy would be up two points to 45 per cent as Mr Hollande dropped two points to 55 per cent, said the poll.

Centre-Left party wins in Slovak poll

Slovakia's centre-left Smer party won a parliamentary election yesterday with almost 40 per cent of the vote, but fell just short of taking an outright majority in parliament.

The Smer-Social Democracy party won after pledging to tax higher earners and companies in order to trim the budget deficit and avoid a credit-rating downgrade.

Tensions mount between Israel, Gaza

The worst exchange of strikes between Israel and the Gaza Strip so far this year entered its second day yesterday, as Israeli aircraft carried out raids that have so far killed 15 militants, according to a Palestinian count, and militants responded with nearly 100 rockets.

The flare-up began last Friday with an Israeli strike on two militants who, says Israel, were planning an attack. This unleashed a fierce rocket barrage by Palestinian militants toward Israel's southern border communities. One of those rockets seriously wounded an Israeli civilian.

By midday yesterday, militants fired 92 rockets at Israel -- far more than the total from the beginning of this year.

Yemen kills 20 al-Qaeda fighters

Yemen's air force killed 20 al-Qaeda-linked fighters at a base in the restive southern town of Jaar yesterday.

Jaar is the second largest town in Abyan province and was seized by militants in March last year as protests paralysed the country. Last week, the fighters seized the military base from the government.

Grenade attack in Kenya kills four

A grenade attack yesterday at one of the main bus stations in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, killed at least four people and wounded 40 others in the latest bloodshed which has been blamed on sympathisers of Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked insurgency.

Swift beats U2 as top money maker

CountrY singer Taylor Swift, 22, was named Billboard Magazine's biggest money maker this weekend, beating U2, Lady Gaga and Adele to top the list with earnings of €26m from music sales, royalties and touring in 2011.

U2, country star Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga, and rapper Lil Wayne, rounded out the next big earners on Billboard's annual list of music's biggest money makers.

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Russian street protests must go on - opposition activist

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union | No Byline — Sunday 11th March, 2012


Excerpt from report by corporate-owned Russian news agency Interfax

Moscow, 11 March: Opposition figure Sergey Udaltsov believes it is essential to continue protest activism and prepare for the "million man march" on 1 May.

"My main thought is that the protest and street activism must not subside now. If we want the authorities to continue to reckon with us, we need to push our demands and prevent a situation occurring where the labours of the last few months have been in vain," Udaltsov told Interfax on Sunday [11 March] when asked about his short-term plans.

He recalled that, the previous day, speaking at a rally on Novyy Arbat [a major thoroughfare in central Moscow], he called on civil activists to take part in a "million man march" on 1 May.

"In the run-up to this event, we need to hold a series of preparatory events in the form of civil assemblies, flash-mobs, meetings with deputies and so on. It seems to me that Pushkinskaya Ploshchad [a major square in central Moscow] is a pretty symoblic place, particularly given the events of 5 March," Udaltsov said.

According to him, in the next day or two, the organizing committee of the event "For Fair Elections" will convene a working meeting, which will discuss the "specific schedule of events and related organizational issues".

[BBCM note: Pushkinskaya Ploshchad was the scene of an opposition rally and hundreds of arrests on 5 March, the day after Vladimir Putin won Russia's presidential election and a third term as head of state.]

Source: Interfax news agency, Moscow, in Russian 0634 gmt 11 Mar 12

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Anti-Putin Protesters Struggle to Keep Winter Outbursts From Losing Steam

The New York Times | By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and ELLEN BARRY; Andrew E. Kramer, Michael Schwirtz and Anastasia Sadovskaya contributed reporting. — Sunday 11th March, 2012


MOSCOW -- Thousands of people thronged a concourse along a main street in Moscow on Saturday to denounce President-elect Vladimir V. Putin and to cry out together, one more time, for political freedom. They waved the flags of opposition parties, in a kaleidoscopic swirl; wore white ribbons that said, ''Russia demands change''; and chanted now-familiar refrains: ''Russia without Putin!'' and ''Russia will be free!''

And so Moscow's winter of dissent drew to a close. Or so it seemed.

The protest movement that burst forth after disputed parliamentary elections in December and drew the largest antigovernment demonstrations since the fall of the Soviet Union collided with the cold reality of Mr. Putin's convincing victory in the presidential election last Sunday, and with the limits of the opposition's own inchoate coalition. In the 13 weeks since the first rally on Bolotnaya Square, the movement had not spread much beyond Moscow and no clear leader had emerged.

The outrage over electoral fraud in December and anger over Mr. Putin's return to the presidency, perhaps for 12 more years, brought together radicals and moderates, liberals, fascists, communists, nationalists, social democrats, the young and the old, many of them from Moscow's new and growing middle class. But while they shared grievances, organizers acknowledged that they had yet to settle on a common goal or a common path forward.

''We know who we are against,'' said Kseniya Sobchak, a television celebrity and socialite who is one of the most recognizable protesters. ''We need to show what we are for.''

For Saturday's protest, the authorities granted a permit for up to 50,000 people -- perhaps 20,000 showed up -- on a promenade that runs along one side of a six-lane thoroughfare called New Arbat. It is a shopping and entertainment strip, flanked by high-rises known as the ''little books'' for their angled design and dotted with the trappings of capitalist comfort: Dunkin' Donuts, a Chili's restaurant, a mall and a multiplex movie theater.

Alexander Greshnov, 20, a salesman at the Swatch boutique there, wore a white ribbon, the modest symbol of the protest movement, under his name tag. ''I already see there is a decrease in energy,'' he said. ''The mood is different than in previous protests.''

''People still think that Putin is a criminal and a thief,'' he said, but the opposition ''has not offered us any alternatives to oppose him. I think that this movement will get real strength only when we choose a united leader.''

Some prominent opposition organizers have called for more radical and sustained action, including a tent encampment like those of some of the Occupy protests in the West. Sergei Udaltsov, the charismatic leader of the radical socialist group Left Front, called on Saturday for a million protesters to march on May 1. But there are no official plans for a next event, even as some said continued protest was the only way to bring change.

''People can get tired of demonstrations, but life will force us into the streets,'' said Gennadi V. Gudkov, a member of Parliament with a minority party called Just Russia, who predicted that an economic crisis would galvanize the public. ''Everyone needs to understand the authorities have left them no option other than the street. We can't go to the courts. We can't go to the prosecutor. We can't change our leaders through clean elections.''

Mr. Putin received 64 percent of the vote, according to official returns, and while there were allegations of widespread voting irregularities, even many of his critics acknowledged that he had won a majority of votes.

With the protest movement at a crossroads, some participants talked about possibly joining a new political party that the billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov, who finished third in the election, has vowed to create. Others talked about pushing Mr. Putin hard to fulfill his campaign promises of government reform.

If the crowd was less buoyant than at previous occasions, the anger was no less evident. Many people carried signs mocking Mr. Putin for shedding what appeared to be tears of emotion at a victory party on a wind-whipped square near the Kremlin. ''How loud I cry,'' said one sign showing a photograph of him that night. ''How little I know.''

Some participants said Saturday's crowd had been diminished by fear after the previous demonstration, Monday evening on Pushkin Square, ended with the police clearing the area and arresting hundreds of demonstrators.

''Several of my friends refused to attend today,'' said Kseniya Koshymyakina, a 19-year-old law student whose mass of curly dark hair was tucked into a black beret. ''They're frightened.'' She said previous rallies of more than 100,000 people had raised expectations that were difficult to meet.

She recalled that a demonstration of 5,000 people the night after the parliamentary elections had seemed huge after years of political inertia. ''Already on the fifth of March, 20,000 seemed like only a few,'' she said, adding: ''People will keep coming, because the thing is the authorities continue to do the things that cause these demonstrations. The outrages continue.''

That Moscow's winter never gained the momentum of the Arab Spring seemed to be the result of many forces, including Mr. Putin's effectiveness in restraining the rise of opposition parties and candidates.

International election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the race had been tilted in Mr. Putin's favor, citing his dominance of the state-controlled media and the use of state resources on behalf of his campaign.

After citizens used cellphone cameras to document fraud in the parliamentary election, the Kremlin spent nearly $450 million to install about 180,000 Web cameras in polling stations across the country. It is still unclear whether the cameras prevented voter fraud or drove it out of sight, but there was no repeat of the dramatic videos in December that showed blatant ballot-box stuffing.

Throughout the country, there was also genuine support for Mr. Putin; Moscow was the only region where he won less than 50 percent of the vote. Some experts said many voters believed that life in Russia had improved since he was first elected president in 2000 and feared it could get worse.

''We have sociological evidence which indicates that resentment of the system and Putin personally is increasing and it's getting more tense and aggressive,'' said Mikhail Dmitriyev, an economist at the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow. ''This is somehow paradoxically combined with the intention to vote for Putin in the elections, because people are even more concerned with the prospect of the complete disorganization of their country. They are very apprehensive.''

Ilya Yashin, one of the protest organizers, said the movement would continue. ''When you are trying to run a distance like this, basically with closed eyes, you really don't know how far it is to the finish line, or how much distance you have already covered,'' he said. ''We're not out of breath yet.''

Nikita Y. Kononnikov, a 23-year-old programmer, carried a sign that said, ''Sunshine will melt the power vertical.'' It showed a melting snowman with Mr. Putin's face for a head.

''Moscow is a city that voted against Putin,'' Mr. Kononnikov said. ''It will be hard for him to rule this city. Soon it will be spring, and we will have more demonstrations. Yes, we didn't get what we wanted in the election. But it would be strange if we accomplished everything in three months. We're just getting started.''

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Smaller protests help lift Russian markets

Reuters News | Jason Bush — Sunday 11th March, 2012


MOSCOW, March 11 (Reuters) - The Russian stock market and rouble rose in Sunday trading -- the first trading day since Wednesday -- as sentiment improved partly because Saturday's anti-government demonstrations were smaller than in recent weeks.

At 0840 GMT, the rouble-denominated MICEX index of Russian stocks had risen by 1.6 percent to 1597.6 points, while the dollar-denominated RTS rose by 2.0 percent to 1711.1 points.

Gains on Sunday -- not normally a market trading day in Russia -- largely match those seen internationally on Thursday and Friday, when Russian markets were closed for a public holiday.

The MSCI emerging markets index rose by 1.9 percent during this period, when global equity markets received a boost after a deal to restructure Greece's debts was accepted by its private creditors.

Last week's bond swap deal between Greece and investors also helped support the oil price, the key driver of Russian asset prices.

Brent futures rose during the latter half of last week, settling close to $126 per barrel on Friday, also helped by positive U.S. jobs data.

A secondary factor supporting Russian markets on Sunday was the small size of anti-government protests held on Saturday, suggesting the wave of public demonstrations is losing momentum.

The latest protests follow the presidential election on March 4, won by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with 64 percent of the vote. International monitoring groups have questioned the fairness of the vote.

Analysts at Russian brokerage Sovlink wrote on Sunday the internal political situation in Russia is contributing to a notable reduction in risk", noting that "although discussions about the legitimacy of the elections continue, such a high result [for Putin] makes it highly unlikely that the opposition will successfully contest the outcome."

The revival of international risk sentiment and strengthening oil price also supported the rouble, which rose by 0.47 percent against the dollar to 29.55 on Sunday, and by 0.38 percent to 38.84 against the euro. Against its euro-dollar currency basket, the rouble rose 0.43 percent to 33.73.

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Obama congratulates Putin over phone, two leaders agree to meet soon

BBC Monitoring Newsfile | No Byline — Saturday 10th March, 2012


US President Barack Obama has telephoned Russian President-elect and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and congratulated him on his victory in the presidential election, Yuriy Yushakov, aide to the head of government for international affairs, has told Interfax.

According to Ushakov, "the telephone conversation was informal but informative and lasted 20 minutes".

The US president expressed the hope that "the positive trends of recent years in bilateral relations will continue", Ushakov said.

According to him, the head of the US Administration expressed readiness "to closely work with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin".

For his part, Vladimir Putin thanked Obama and emphasized the importance of Russian-US cooperation for global security, particularly bearing in mind the current turbulent situation.

The two countries have every opportunity to have a breakthrough in bilateral relations, Putin said.

According to Ushakov, Putin and Obama expressed readiness to keep in touch before they meet in person. Putin wished Obama success in the US presidential campaign which is getting under way.

Obama thanked Putin and said he was looking forward to working with the president-elect on bilateral contacts, including in the economic sphere and on the international agenda.

The two leaders admitted that during the election campaigns in both countries they had said a lot of negative things about each other but added that this had been done in the heat of the election campaign and should not affect the ongoing development of Russian-American cooperation, Ushakov told Interfax.

Putin and Obama agreed to hold a summit in the near future.

Putin said there had been progress in bilateral relations in recent years, including the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the successful outcome of the talks on Russia's accession to the WTO.

At the same time, the president-elect pointed out that Moscow and Washington's positions on missile defence did not coincide and that the development of economic relations lagged behind the development of political relations between the two countries. According to Putin, trade and economic relations between Russia and the USA had big potential and their development "will make it possible to create a safety net for protecting bilateral political relations against market fluctuations".

Putin spoke in favour of stepping up economic relations between the two countries.

Source: Interfax news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1851 and 1857 gmt 9 Mar 12

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Putin on the piste as arrests rock capital

The Australian | No Byline — Saturday 10th March, 2012


MOSCOW: Protesters gathered in Moscow yesterday to demand the release of two members of a punk band arrested after they mounted an anti-Putin demonstration in the city's main cathedral.

The two women face up to seven years in jail after being charged with hooliganism in a case that has sparked fierce debate about freedom of expression and the limits of protest in Russia's new era of political activism.

As the drama unfolded, Vladimir Putin went skiing with the man he is replacing as president, Dmitry Medvedev. The pair later met Silvio Berlusconi, who has skipped his first planned television appearance since stepping down as Italian prime minister to jump on a plane and personally congratulate Mr Putin on his presidential election win.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova have begun a hunger strike after a judge ordered them held in pre-trial detention until April 24, despite pleas from their lawyers that they were the mothers of two young children. Ms Tolokonnikova, who has a four-year-old daughter, and Ms Alekhina, who has a five-year-old son, deny involvement.

Supporters held up banners demanding their freedom during a 12-hour picket outside Moscow's police headquarters yesterday.

The women are believed to be members of an all-women punk band called Pussy Riot -- though members wear brightly coloured balaclavas to mask their identity -- that outraged the Orthodox Church by performing a ``punk prayer'' critical of Mr Putin at the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on February 21.

Among those who joined the Moscow picket yesterday was Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger who has become a key opposition figure since mass street protests broke out against Mr Putin in December, over his plan to return as president. Mr Navalny, a lawyer, wrote on his blog that the group's performance was ``idiotic'' but added: ``Is their transgression of such a dangerous nature to society that the women need to be held behind bars? Obviously not.''

Ekaterina Zatuliveter, who defeated an attempt by MI5 to have her deported from Britain as a Russian spy, joined the protest.

``It wasn't the best thing they could have done, but to put someone in prison for something like this is too much,'' she said.

More than 3000 people have signed an online petition urging the release of the pair. The band shot to fame when they staged a daring performance in Red Square in January to protest at Mr Putin's election campaign for a third term as president. Waving smoke flares, the group sang a protest song in front of the Kremlin mocking Mr Putin, as stunned policemen looked on.

Video of the performance, seen almost 600,000 times on YouTube, seemed to capture the exuberant mood of protest in Moscow and the regime's paralysis in responding to it.

But the women incurred the wrath of the powerful Orthodox Church when they performed at the cathedral, imploring the Virgin Mary to banish Mr Putin. Security guards and nuns tried to drag the masked women from the altar as they danced and screamed their expletive-laden lyrics.

The group said the protest was against Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Orthodox Church, over his public support for Mr Putin's candidacy. Band members fled the cathedral after the performance but Ms Tolokonnikova and Ms Alekhina were arrested last week.

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Russia’s future depends on middle class - Condoleezza Rice

RIA Novosti | Èíîâåùàíèå àíãë. âûïóñê — Saturday 10th March, 2012


MOSCOW, March 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s victory in presidential elections “may be both Putin’s last and the final one for Putinism”, The Washington Post reported on Friday, quoting Former U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice.

“The future turns on the behavior of a rising Russian middle class that is integrated into the world and alienated by the Kremlin’s corrupt politics,” Rice said.

“He has gotten his way - replacing his protege Dmitry Medvedev and reclaiming the Kremlin to solidify authoritarianism and political stagnation,” she said, describing Putin’s victory in the presidential election in a landslide on Sunday.

Rice remembered the first time she was in the Soviet Union in 1979 and was struck by the Stalin’s repressions imprint that imposed Soviet people. She says that things now are different, despite the fact that Putin destroyed the judicial independence, closed the independent television and appointed governors rather than voters elected them.

Former U.S. State Secretary says that the representatives of the Russian creative class are studying at prestigious business schools in Europe and the United States and no longer watch “Kremlin’s mouthpiece”, Russian TV. “The Internet flourished as a place where alternative voices were heard,” Rice said. But even the middle class in Moscow, St. Petersburg, “or Vladivostok” have become used to normal lives and “have different expectations for the future.”

“Putin has staked his legitimacy on prosperity and order, but he seemed not to understand that a prosperous population would demand respect, too. Many are fed up with a political system that sometimes behaves more like a natural resources syndicate than a national government,” Rice added.

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Kremlin names preferred candidate to head region in Far East

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union | No Byline — Saturday 10th March, 2012


Text of report by corporate-owned Russian news agency Interfax

Moscow, 10 March: Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev has submitted the candidacy of Vladimir Miklushevskiy for consideration by the Maritime Territory Legislative Assembly as governor of Maritime Territory, the Kremlin's press-service said on Saturday [10 March].

The press-service said that Medvedev chose his candidate for the post of Maritime Territory governor from a list of individuals proposed by the presidium of One Russia's general council. The list included businessman Vadim Dymov, Far Eastern Federal University rector Vladimir Miklushevskiy and Maritime Territory deputy governor Irina Skorobogatova.

Several days before the [4 March] presidential election, Medvedev signed a decree dismissing Maritime Territory governor Sergey Darkin at the latter's own request. Miklushevskiy was appointed acting head of the region until the individual who is to exercise the powers of governor takes office.

Source: Interfax news agency, Moscow, in Russian 0707 gmt 10 Mar 12

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Opposition rally For Honest Elections is due on Saturday.

ITAR-TASS World Service | No Byline — Saturday 10th March, 2012


MOSCOW, March 10 (Itar-Tass) —— Russia’s opposition will organise a rally For Honest Elections in the very centre of Moscow in Novy Arbat Street on Saturday. Organisers expect about 50,000 participants.

The rally will continue the actions, which were organised in Moscow immediately after the elections to the State Duma in December of past year.

Official police reports say that every rally on December 10, December 24 and on February 4 featured about 30,000 participants, while organisers say about 100,000. The police report that the rally For Honest Elections in Pushkin Square on March 5 gathered about 14,000, while the organisers claim 20,000.

The rhetoric of the rallies has been changing and the latest actions voiced anti-Putin slogans. But organisers say that the agenda of the rally on Saturday will be different – “proofs of violations at the presidential election in Russia” and “tactics of further actions.” Speakers will feature observers who, they claim, have witnessed mass falsifying. The observers include deputies elect and reporters.

The Moscow Mayor’s Office approved the rally from 13:00 through to 16:00 Moscow time between Novinsky and Gogolevsky boulevards. Protesters will gather on the sidewalk and the parking area.

The police warned they would prevent violations of public order. “About 2,500 policemen, Interior Ministry Forces’ servicemen and volunteers will stand guard during the rally,” the city police department told Itar-Tass. “The Moscow police will do everything to prevent violations of public order. Any illegal actions will be stopped immediately, in strict compliance with effective laws, and the culprits will be prosecuted.”

It is not planned to suspend traffic in the rally area, “but the police may have to limit or even stop traffic along Novy Arbat in the case the crowd is too large,” the department sad.

The Saturday rally will continue thousands-strong street protests, which started in Moscow after the parliamentary election in late December 2012. About 200 people, among them Sergei Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin and Alexei Navalny, were seized in an attempt to hold an unauthorized action after the permitted opposition rally on March 5. All of them are free now.

Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin condemned the unauthorized action attempt. “While criticizing the police, we must understand that the violence was triggered by certain organizers of the rally. Sergei Udaltsov guided with his radical revolutionary ideas called on rally participants to stay on the square until Putin leaves,” he wrote in the LiveJournal. “I think that both the police and the ‘heroes’ who are prepared to spill their own and somebody else’s blood, like revolutionaries did in the past, shall be called responsible. Radical actions should be held separately from large rallies, in which the majority of people do not want to be hit on the head with a club.”

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Russian opposition hampered by lack of strategy - editor

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union | No Byline — Friday 9th March, 2012


Yevgeniya Albats, the editor in chief of The New Times, a pro-opposition Moscow-based weekly, has sharply criticized the opposition's actions in the aftermath of the 4 March presidential election.

Albats said the opposition in Russia lacked a clear strategy. The key rally in Moscow on 5 March was a predictable failure, she added. Albats also criticized the authorities' response, particularly the heavy police presence and the detention of activists after the rally.

She was speaking in a live interview with Olga Bychkova on Ekho Moskvy Radio, a Gazprom-owned, editorially independent station, on 6 March.

No skills or strategy

According to Albats, Russia's opposition leaders lack the skills and knowledge necessary to lead an efficient protest movement.

"The biggest problem is that ambitions are varied and many, while knowledge and skills are scarce. There's even less understanding that, most importantly, a comprehensible strategy should have been worked out during all these months. You shouldn't come up with the same demands and resolutions every time," she said. "Clearly, the For Fair Elections motto is too o She was speaking in a live interview with Olga Bychkova on Ekho Moskvy Radio, a Gazprom-owned, editorially independent station, on 6 March.

No skills or strategy

According to Albats, Russia's opposition leaders lack the skills and knowledge necessary to lead an efficient protest movement.

"The biggest problem is that ambitions are varied and many, while knowledge and skills are scarce. There's even less understanding that, most importantly, a comprehensible strategy should have been worked out during all these months. You shouldn't come up with the same demands and resolutions every time," she said. "Clearly, the For Fair Elections motto is too outdated now. They should have foreseen that."

The opposition is hamstrung by the absence of a clear strategy, Albats reiterated several times during the programme: "They haven't formulated a clear plan of action or a clear programme during the past few months."

"We need an umbrella movement which would unite different protest forces," she said. "Leave it to the authorities to divide people into us and them. That's what they do."

Failed rally

The much-expected rally held by the opposition in Moscow's central Pushkinskaya Ploshchad (Square) on 5 March, the day after the presidential polls, was poorly conceived, badly executed and lacked purpose.

"Of course, the opposition suffered a failure yesterday, and, unfortunately, it was an absolutely predictable failure," Albats said, pointing to the absence of a clear strategy as one of the reasons.

"It's a great shame it happened. The most important thing is that lessons should be learnt," she added.

Albats also said the rally format was "exhausted" last year and something newer was needed.

She criticized the apparent lack of coordination among opposition leaders at the rally.

"Some leaders stayed in the square while others suddenly disappeared," she said. "They shouldn't have left. How could they just go and leave [radical leftist Sergey] Udaltsov, [anti-corruption blogger Aleksey] Navalnyy and [senior figure from opposition Solidarity movement Ilya] Yashin there? Where are all the others?"

Albats also said the opposition must strictly follow the rules imposed by the authorities and criticized Sergey Udaltsov for calling on protesters to stay in Pushkinskaya Ploshchad until "Putin goes".

"You shouldn't have done that. You agreed the rally will be in Pushkinskaya Ploshchad, and you weren't allowed to rally in Lubyanka or Manezhnaya Ploshchad or anywhere else," she said. "If you agree to that, you should follow these conditions strictly."

"Semi-military rule"

Both Yevgeniya Albats and the anchor, Olga Bychkova, were bitterly critical of the authorities' response to the opposition activity, particularly of the heavy police presence in Moscow on 5 March.

"This shows that the authorities are horribly stupid. Given that many people don't believe [Vladimir] Putin won in the first round, the last thing he needed was to create a sense of semi-military rule in Moscow," Albats said. "A show of force won't scare anyone any more."

"The situation of a cold civil war has been created. They did it with their own hands, when Putin called his political opponents traitors and enemies, and urged [supporters] to defend Moscow," she said. "This is the kind of thing that will make people take to the streets. This incredible military presence in Moscow yesterday [5 March] really annoyed me."

"A military parade. This is silly, why are they doing it?" Albats went on. "I think there are two reasons. First, they know full well what the real numbers are [of the pro-Putin vote]. Second, they convinced themselves that they are surrounded by enemies. This has to do with the fact that they don't read Twitter. We know that Putin doesn't use Twitter or read Facebook. He doesn't know any of this. This is how fear gets worse. I think people around Putin give him reports about a coup that's being prepared in Moscow, an explosion, a riot, God knows what."

Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 1508 gmt 6 Mar 12

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What? I Won? Opposition Is Surprised by Its Success in Moscow Vote

The New York Times | By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ — Friday 9th March, 2012


MOSCOW -- While many in Russia's protest movement have been searching for direction in the wake of Vladimir V. Putin's victory this week in the presidential election, a splinter group of Kremlin opponents in Moscow has been drawing up plans for new park benches, pedestrian walkways and more efficient parking.

Inspired by the recent protests against Mr. Putin, but not content with street theater alone, hundreds of young Muscovites decided to run in municipal elections last weekend. To the shock of many, dozens won.

''It was completely surprising,'' said Vera Kichanova, 20, a journalism student who campaigned for a seat on the Yuzhnoe Tushino district council in Moscow. ''Everyone looked at us as if we were not serious competition, and we won.''

That someone like Ms. Kichanova could win an election, let alone be inspired to run in one, shows how much Russia has changed since December, when tens of thousands of Muscovites, earlier dismissed as apathetic, spilled into a central Moscow square for a protest against Mr. Putin's government.

A political culture was born seemingly overnight, at least in Moscow. But in a city obsessed with money and prestige, perhaps the most remarkable manifestation of this movement is a new passion among educated young Muscovites to follow their ideals, even if it means taking on the drudgery of local government.

''Ideally, we are protesting to get Putin to come out and say, 'I'm tired, I'm leaving,' '' said Ms. Kichanova, who wears boxy hipster glasses and multicolored tights. ''But this is not going to happen, so there are also these small steps. If you see a breach in the iron wall, it makes sense to try to go through it.''

Now, instead of creating anti-Kremlin placards and fretting about arrest, Ms. Kichanova is brainstorming plans for an online community forum and apartment co-ops, which are virtually nonexistent. She also wants to create a hot line for questions about army conscription.

She was one of about 200 independent candidates in Moscow to run for spots on small district councils through an initiative called Our City that was created last year by Mr. Putin's opponents. More than 70 of them won seats.

It was not a revolutionary development, considering there are 1,500 seats on the councils, most of them occupied by Putin loyalists or graying Communists. And the opportunities for advancement to higher political circles are limited. But with their youth and often unorthodox fashion sense, the newcomers have injected an energy into Russia's staid political system that voters seem to have found attractive.

''I think what we are doing and what we are achieving -- this small seizure of municipal councils -- it is not a small thing, especially under the dictatorship that now exists,'' said Mikhail Velmakin, 30, a founder of the Our City initiative, who won a second term on the district council of a conservative Moscow bedroom community -- despite his dreadlocks.

He said the number of people seeking to run in the municipal elections spiked after the protests began in December, as did the number of people willing to vote for opposition candidates.

Few have any illusions that their work on the district councils will lead to rapid change. Most major decisions in Moscow are made by unelected bureaucrats at agencies beholden to the city's unelected mayor. The district councils, which are made up of elected volunteers, barely have enough authority to decide on the location of a park bench or the planting of a tree.

The one advantage council members do have is contact with voters and, with the right amount of energy, the ability to mobilize them, Mr. Velmakin said. His biggest success so far has been rallying his constituents to block the construction of a parking garage that would have led to the removal of a popular soccer field. On his 30th birthday last month, he said his constituents, mostly elderly women, called with good wishes and informed him that they would attend the next protest against Mr. Putin.

''You can fantasize about achieving our goals with tanks and planes or through the principles of Gandhi,'' Mr. Velmakin said. ''There are many possibilities, but there are a few tactical measures. We must speak to people and tell them what is going on now.''

This was one of the biggest miscalculations by leaders of the protest movement. Energized by early success, they made little attempt to project their message beyond central Moscow and a few other large cities.

Despite claims of sporadic vote-rigging in the presidential election on Sunday, it is becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Putin had enough support to win without fraud.

What many voters do seem to want is incremental change, as well as a little bit of honesty.

Maksim Kats, who says he makes his living off poker, won a seat in the Shchukino district council, in part, he believes, because of his scaldingly candid campaign fliers in which he emphasized his lack of experience and called attention to his Jewish last name, at times a political disadvantage here.

''I was advised not to be so direct, to change my name and wear a suit, and to promise that I would fight for increased pensions and wages,'' the flier says. ''Our politicians and their methods make me sick, so I'm telling you how it really is.''

In an interview, Mr. Kats said he would focus on making sidewalks in his district friendlier for pedestrians by preventing cars from parking on them. He said he would like to see Mr. Putin out of office some day, but was willing to wait. ''I'm 27 years old, I have a lot of time.''

Ms. Kichanova, who in an interview wore a pin with the coiled rattlesnake borrowed from the American ''Don't Tread on Me'' flags, seemed to be in more of a rush. Ideally, she said, the protest movement should mobilize enough people to occupy a Moscow square and erect a tent camp as Ukrainians did in the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004.

''Just because I became a council member doesn't mean I will stop going to protests,'' she said. ''I already have a tent.''

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Latvian commentary: Russia faces post-election "checkmate" situation

BBC Monitoring European | No Byline — Friday 9th March, 2012


Text of report by Latvian newspaper Diena

[Commentary by Andrejs Pantelejevs: "Checkmate for Russia"]

Sometimes I am all but taken over by melancholy about the fact that too many things in this world of ours happen in the same way as they were forecast and without any unnecessary fantasies. This applies to the presidential election which just took place in our neighboring country of Russia. As could be expected, Vladimir Putin won on the first round. Also as could be expected, there were lots of violations of election procedure and lots of fraud during the vote. Igor Yurgen is an advisor to the current president of Russia, and he was rather resigned on the day before the vote in saying that "Putin will win, but there will certainly be many primitive violations of election rules - not because Putin will sanction them directly, but because the vertical system of power is so corrupt that there will be sufficient numbers of petty little bureaucrats and rulers of local importance who will want to bow before the expected winner." (In Chechnya, which is run by Kadirov, more than 90% of voters plumped for Putin!) The system in Russia is one in which it is shooting itself in the foot. That is exactly why many people feel that no matter how predictable the results of the election were, the fact is that the situation which has existed in Russia until now will not continue. So what will happen?

Anticipated Protests

There will be protests about dishonesty in the election, but the scenario of an Orange Revolution is most unlikely. First of all, the opposition at this time does not have a transnational and authoritative leader of the type that Ukraine had in Viktor Yushchenko and Georgia had in Mikhail Saakashvili. Second, the only thing that joins together the opposition in the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities is the desire to flip the middle finger at Putin. Beyond that, however, there may be problems, because under the umbrella of the "opposition" there are representatives of many organizations which are contradictory and even have mutually exclusive ideologies. These can be placed into three groups to a certain extent. First, there are liberals, who are by no means the largest and most popular segment of the protesters. Second, there are nationalists. Finally, there are leftists and communists. The result is that the proposals that are being made by the opposition in term! s of a Russia without Putin remind one of the cart in the Krilov fable which a swan, a crab and a perch-pike tried to push forward. Oh, yeah - there is also Mikhail Prokhorov, but time will have to pass, I suspect, before we can really understand whose project and what kind of project he really is.

Role of Putin

The truth is that the main problem for Putin is Putin himself. First of all, the promises which he made to the Russian people during the campaign season (including the season in advance of last December's parliamentary election) will cost trillions of rubles. The same is true of the expensive and massive program of modernizing the country's defense sector - a process which has already begun. Math is merciless, and it cares absolutely nothing about ideologies. As the aforementioned Igor Yurgen joked with much sadness: "If Uncle Sam does not once again help us by starting to bomb Iran and, thus, ensuring higher oil prices, then the attempt to fulfill these problems under the existing and inefficient economic system and the total dependency of Russia on oil and gas exports will very quickly lead the country to fiscal catastrophe." That, in turn, may mean that the current political protests, which mostly involve Russia's scanty middle class, may quickly turn into extensive social unrest which could be difficult to control and without any foreseeable result. It seems, by the way, that at least at this point, Uncle Sam has no intention of helping Russia via Iran.

Of course, there are dreamers who believe that Vladimir Putin is perfectly well aware of all of this, and so he may choose a prime minister (perhaps Alexei Kudrin) and government that will forget all about campaign rhetoric and will seriously deal with economic issues, functional reforms, and auditing of the institutions of national governance. The question, however, is whether Putin can reform Putin. Are we to think that he will grab himself by the hair to pull himself out of a swamp as Munchhausen did? His most serious burden is the fact that he has been in power from 12 years, and that means that his surname relates to the accustomed behavior and style of the Civil Service and the business world, particularly during the last several years. These are habits which involve cowardice in the Civil Service, corruption, irresponsibility (all orders must be received from above), obsequiousness, stagnation without any new initiatives, and a business environment which has adapted itself to this bureaucratic culture. All of that, of course, has very little to do with effective management and readiness for reforms. This is not a phenomenon which is only found in Russia, of course. I doubt whether there is any instance in history in which a leader who has been in power for a long time has, during the latter stage of his rule, turned to serious reforms. Any regime eventually arrives at the point of burnout and weariness. Of course, there are those who will object and say that quite the opposite will happen - Putin will announce that he will not seek another term in office, and that will liberate him to engage in more radical reforms. I do not know, but I do not think that Russia is the country in which anyone much listens to those who are "departing." Instead, such people usually face sabotage.

The result is something like checkmate. There is Putin who can no longer do the job, and there are alternatives which cannot yet do the job. Russia is a very complicated country with different territories, nationalities, religions, cultures, highly contradictory groups with social and economic interests, and the weighty burden that is the heritage of the age of Communism. Governance of Russia does not involve trivial models or ready-made recipes. I would not have sufficient haughtiness to tell Russia what would be the best approach for it. At the end of the day, that is something which the Russians themselves will have to think about.

The point, however, is that they will have to come up with something, because the checkmate situation which Russian society and the country's economy are facing at this time is dangerous. For us, as Russia's neighbors, that cannot help but be worrisome.

Source: Diena, Riga, in Latvian 09 Mar 12

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Russia elections: Vladimir Putin admits 'possible there were irregularities'; Vladimir Putin has admitted there were violations of electoral law during his recent presidential election win, but he brushed off claims of a 10 per cent boost to his vote, stating the malpractice was too insignificant to influence the result.

The Telegraph Online | By Tom Parfitt Moscow — Thursday 8th March, 2012


Speaking to journalists in Moscow on Wednesday, Mr Putin said: "It's possible there were irregularities, probably there were some. But they can only influence hundredths of a per cent. Well, maybe one per cent; that I can imagine. But no more."

Earlier in the day, Mr Putin's opponents had claimed his share of the vote on Sunday was inflated by more than 10 per cent in order to bring him a crushing win.

The League of Voters, a civic group set up after a public outcry over rigged parliamentary elections in December, said in a report that Mr Putin, who is currently prime minister, should have got 53 per cent rather than the official result of 64%.

The League said rigging was achieved mostly through "daytime falsification", meaning multiple voting by the same citizens, rather than the "night falsification" chiefly employed during the parliamentary vote, when many election counts were allegedly rewritten after polling stations closed.

International observers from the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe said earlier this week that the vote was unfair but stopped short of calling it illegitimate.

In an apparent attempt at conciliation, Mr Putin said that the billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who came third in the election with 8 per cent, could take a senior post in the future.

"Mikhail Dmitriyevich (Prokhorov) is a serious man, a good businessman, and in principle he could be in demand in the government, if he should want this himself," said Mr Putin. Mr Prokhorov did not respond immediately but said on Monday he was not interested in working in government "in the current political system".

Asked if experts were right to predict a "tightening of the screws" after his return to the Kremlin in May, Mr Putin joked: "Of course, where would we be without that? Don't relax!"

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Bankers positive on Putin’s return

The Moscow News | No Byline — Thursday 8th March, 2012


Analysts and rating agencies in Moscow have been polishing their crystal balls to preview the year ahead after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s convincing victory in the presidential election on Sunday. The common theme running through all of Monday’s analyst notes to investors was that Putin’s re-election would foster stability and lessen political risks, a top concern for investors. The only dissenting voice was Fitch Ratings, which threatened to downgrade Russia unless the incoming government significantly reduces the non-oil and gas deficit. In addition, the wave of anti-Putin protests is still on agencies’ radars, despite the result.

Many analysts, however, believe that Putin’s strong performance will take the wind out of the protesters’ sails. “The clear-cut victory should help draw a line under the protest movement in its current form, which should be greeted with relief by investors,” said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Troika Dialog. Still, anticipation of Putin’s win resulted in no great effect on equities, he noted.

Nevertheless, many analysts see the result as a victory for Putin’s campaign platform, which stressed the need to maintain stability. “From a purely economic perspective, we think that the market will take comfort from the win as a sign of continuing stability,” said Ivan Tchakarov, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank partly owned by presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, who finished third in the election.

With all ballots counted, Putin gained 63.6 percent of the vote, with his closest rival, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, garnering only 17.18 percent, according to official results.

While dissatisfaction with Putin hinged partly on the cynical job swap with outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev, analysts said investors may count on a more congenial investment climate if Medvedev takes the prime minister’s seat, which Putin confirmed last week that he would. “The new administration does not take office until May, so there are likely to be few concrete statements on policies in the next few weeks,” Clemens Grafe, chief economist at Goldman Sachs in Moscow, said in a research note. “However, any comment from Vladimir Putin on how inclusive [of the non-parliamentary opposition] he would want his future government and administration to be would be closely watched.” Peter Westin, chief equity strategist at Aton brokerage, said the inclusion of liberal-minded individuals like Prokhorov and former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin in the government could boost support for market-friendly reforms.

Pushing through such reforms may be a question of economic survival for Putin, especially after spending commitments he made during the campaign. “Having already increased public sector wages, pensions, and subsidies, Putin has pledged to increase spending on the military, health provision, and hike wages further,” Fitch Ratings said on Monday. “If delivered, these increases could cost $160 billion, or eight percent of projected gross domestic product (GDP), over his six-year term.” It noted that spending increases have “pushed up the fiscal breakeven oil price to around $117 per barrel for 2012.”

Despite anticipated fiscal stability in a third Putin term, political risks may exist depending on “how the country’s political and business elite responds to the rise of middleclass anti-Putin protest that looks set to continue following the presidential election,” the agency said, emphasizing that both economic and political risks were factors in its January revision of Russia’s rating from “stable” to “positive.”

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Dealing with the silent majority

The Moscow News | No Byline — Thursday 8th March, 2012


Russia’s democratic opposition now has to deal with the elephant in the room: Russia’s silent majority elected Vladimir Putin president on Sunday.

This week, there is a post mortem round of press conferences.

The European observer group correctly called the election process heavily skewed toward the official candidate.

Golos, the vote monitoring group, guesstimated that Putin won with “50 percent plus a pixel.” (Whatever that means.)

On Wednesday, the League of Voters, which includes many opposition figures, said their preliminary data gave Putin 53 percent of the vote.

For most Russians, Sunday’s election has enough legitimacy to last until oil prices collapse again. When that happens (it always does), Putin may find he is standing on a hill of sand.

In the meantime, the opposition has to deal the election results.

In my first presidential election, I was a volunteer campaign worker for the Democratic candidate, Sen. George McGovern. (Don’t laugh.) All the cool people were for McGovern. The argument against reelecting President Richard Nixon was so clear that it did not have to be made.

The American people did not buy that. Nixon’s boring supporters, the silent majority, carried every state, except for mine, Massachusetts.

I see a faint echo today in Russia. Putin failed to get a majority in Moscow and barely won a majority in his home city, St. Petersburg. In a measure of Putin’s unpopularity in Russia’s two largest cities, his campaign billboards in the cities did not feature his face. In Moscow, his one campaign event and the Sunday night victory rallies were not advertised locally. Instead, they were filled with supporters bused in from out of town.

Moscow is Russia’s media capital, and the press (myself included) has had a field day interviewing the charming, self-confident, smart opposition supporters. Reporters love news, and the protest movement was new.

The harder part was to break through to Putin supporters – often sullen, half-hearted in their support for Putin, and generally reluctant to talk to reporters. Mike Schwirtz did a fine job in his New York Times piece from Lubertsy.

This press failing reminds me of an insight that a reporter friend, Ken Freed, gained while covering the Iranian revolution for The Los Angeles Times in the fall of 1978. When shooting broke out In Tehran between pro- and anti-Shah forces, he took refuge in an open street sewer in Tehran (where he caught a skin disease). Reflecting on the journalism business from this inglorious perch, Ken concluded that many foreign reporters had taken the easy path in Iran, interviewing those nice Iranians who spoke English and had studied oil production at the University of Texas. They now live in Los Angeles.

Back to modern Russia.

Cool Russia and un-cool Russia will have to come to terms.

Opposition hardliners looking for direct confrontation play straight into the hands of president-elect Putin. Ever since a 2004 tent encampment in Kiev led to the annulment of a presidential election in Ukraine, Putin has been warning anyone who would listen of the threat of “Orange” revolutions.

Fast forward to this January: he doubled police salaries. On Monday night, his Robocop police army was on full display in central Moscow – pumped-up riot police with shields, bulletproof vests, black helmets and combat boots.

In a street confrontation the opposition will lose, and more importantly lose the participation of middle-class supporters who are not interested in violence. Even with a demonstration permit, it is unclear if the opposition will get a large turnout for the next rally in Moscow, on Saturday.

Instead, the opposition should insist on reforms that will grow their ranks long term.

Hold the Kremlin to its December promise to create a national “public” TV channel that would not answer to state controls. This would allow opposition voices to reach the half of Russia that is not online.

Another December promise, direct elections for governors, should be expanded to mayors.

Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire businessman, came in second in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The nearly 1 million Muscovites who voted for him should pressure President- elect Putin to adopt Prokhorov’s agenda – cut red tape, cut corruption and lift the dead weight of the state off the backs of entrepreneurs.

It is no accident that Russia’s pro-Putin silent majority was largely made up of voters dependent on the government – for jobs, pensions and spending. Twenty years after the collapse of communism, about half of Russia’s economy still depends on the state.

Finally, with the advent of spring next month, the street protest movement should migrate to city parks – like Moscow’s newly renovated Park Kultury. There, in the tradition of the American teach-in and the French political kermesse, the tens of thousands of people who volunteered Sunday as election observers can channel their energies into building the foundation blocks of civil society – joining neighborhood groups, green groups, women groups, new political parties, and, dare I say it, gay groups.

It is not sexy. But it was this growth of civil society in the 1990s that made possible Brazil’s transition from authoritarian rule to multiparty democracy.

But if the opposition defaults to its old tactics of street protests ending with arrests, Russia’s silent majority will grow.

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Protests at the pump

The Moscow News | No Byline — Thursday 8th March, 2012


The authorities may be sick of Moscow’s middle-class protesters demanding fair elections, but a new showdown for the Kremlin may yet come from the country’s motorists, whose numbers have been growing exponentially in recent years.

Gasoline prices, which had been kept artificially low ahead of the presidential election, are set to skyrocket this month, with the election over, analysts say. Prices may well exceed the inflation target close to the year’s end.

As the parliamentary elections loomed in December, oil majors, including TNK-BP and Lukoil, bowed to pressure from the Kremlin and announced “New Year’s discounts” on prices at the pump.

The measures have largely worked, analysts say. Gasoline prices in Moscow remained static for most of January and even dropped 0.2 percent in February, according to the State Statistics Service.

‘Gentlemen’s agreement’

The downward trend was even more surprising against the backdrop of a snowy winter in January and February, when motorists generally use more gasoline. However, on March 1 (on the eve of the presidential election) the “gentlemen’s agreement” between the government and various oil producers and distributors expired, and neither side has indicated they are willing to extend it.

Even if artificial price controls were extended, many analysts still expect that gasoline and diesel prices would rise sharply. “Now that the presidential election is over, price hikes are inevitable,” said Vitaly Kryukov, an oil and gas analyst at asset management firm IFD Capital. “My guess is that domestic fuel prices will jump by about 20 percent to 30 percent because artificial regulation of retail prices for fuel has its limits, and that limit has already been reached.”

Among other factors that may make price hikes inevitable is the recent surge in global crude prices, which analysts say may encourage refiners to export products, thereby creating domestic shortages. In the past, oil companies have been reluctant to sell fuel locally while international prices were rising, as the government kept a tight lid on prices at home.

This trend prompted President Dmitry Medvedev in January to order the head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to closely monitor retail gasoline prices, saying that any unwarranted increases would be met with swift legal measures, RIA Novosti reported.

New fuel taxes

As if reduced domestic supply is not enough of a worry for the Kremlin, a raft of new amendments to tax laws became effective in January. These increased the rates of excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel by 30 percent and 70 percent, respectively, compared to the previously announced rates of excise tax for 2011 and 2012.

In addition, varying excise tax rates were introduced for different fuel classes. The first part of the excise taxes was introduced in January this year, to be followed by a second stage on July 1.

“When that happens, prices at the pump are expected to cross the psychologically important threshold of 30 rubles per liter for high-octane fuel,” Kryukov said. “The price for diesel fuel could rise even higher.”

‘Inexplicably high’

While the Kremlin is unlikely to risk a sudden spike in gasoline prices, analysts say the July increase in excise taxes is expected to up the tax burden on fuel producers by about 1.5 percent.

That burden could conveniently be transferred to consumers in the form of higher gasoline prices, they said. Moreover, gasoline and diesel prices are likely to increase when the sowing season starts in the spring. The incoming government may need a good harvest this year if it is to keep inflation down to the official target for this year of 6 percent to 7 percent. That challenge may prompt still stronger demand for diesel for agricultural vehicles when planting kicks off in the southern regions around April 15, analysts say.

“The impending increases in fuel prices remain one of the most acute headaches for both the government and motorists this year,” said Viktor Pokhmelkin, who heads the Motorists’ Movement of Russia, an advocacy group. “High fuel prices are inexplicable in an oil-rich country like Russia, but part of the reason for the impending hikes is the new excise tax on gasoline.”

In the past, high fuel prices have sparked protests among farmers and motorists in Russia, the largest domestic consumers of Russian oil and gas. Days after Medvedev took office in May 2008, motorists in about 50 cities across the country protested rising gasoline prices and called on the government to take measures to punish producers of substandard fuel. The demonstrations, organized by the Freedom of Choice drivers’ movement, involved lines of cars driving through city centers with their emergency lights on and empty fuel canisters taped to their roofs.

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Meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Russian Government News | No Byline — Thursday 8th March, 2012


PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Good afternoon, Mr Putin.

First of all I would like to sincerely congratulate you on your victory in the presidential election. Yesterday, the Central Election Commission published the final results. The figures are absolutely convincing, and they show an indisputable fact: our citizens trust the policy implemented in our country in recent years.

Indeed, we have been working together on laying the foundation for a new economy, modernising the economy and promoting a technological overhaul. Naturally, a great deal of attention was paid to the development of the social sphere, although it is clear that there is still a wide range of outstanding problems. A major challenge facing our state is ensuring security and defence capability, as well as maintaining high-level relations with other nations around the globe.

I am confident that your future policy will cover all of these areas and would like to sincerely wish you every success. Once again, congratulations.

PRIME MINISTER OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you.

Mr President, I would like to address all Russian citizens today and thank everyone who participated in the presidential election.

It would be appropriate to point out that the President in our country is not affiliated with any particular party. Therefore, our efforts will be for the benefit of the entire Russian nation, regardless of party preference.

Just yesterday you held a meeting where we discussed economic development. Our main challenge in the economy is to maintain the macroeconomic indicators and the positive trends that we have reached in recent years, despite the economic crisis.

Together you and I have outlined our priority tasks in the social sphere and they can be addressed solely on the basis of strong economic growth. Yesterday we decided which aspects of this work we will tackle together. As we have agreed, today we will begin consultations on the issues related to shaping the future of the Russian Federation.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Agreed. Let's get down to work.

*****

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www.president.kremlin.ru

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