Russian Duma Elections 2016

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This building, home to Russia’s lower house of parliament, is known as the Duma. The term is tied to the idea of thinking, and those who thought that the United Russia party would increase their hold on power were thinking correctly.

Reaction from Russian president Vladimir Putin was predictable as he greeted news of his party’s continued control with the expression “pretty good.” Mr. Putin arrived at 12:50 pm to cast his ballot at polling station No. 2151, the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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United Russia increased its majority from 238 to over 300. There are a total of 450 seats, all were up for reelection, and the only “minority” parties to hold seats were those loyal to the Kremlin.

Two highly visible Kremlin opponents lost their bids: Current deputy Dmitry Gudkov, considered to be only remaining opposition liberal, was defeated. Well-known opposition candidate Maria Baronova lost her bid for a seat.

The chart below shows the new alignment of the 450 seats:

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United Russia: 343

Communist Party: 42

Liberal Democrats: 39

A Just Russia: 23

The Rodina (Homeland) party and the Civic Platform party each won a single seat. The final seat went to an Independent. Roughly half the seats will be appointed from party lists, the others from single-mandate voting.

Unsurprisingly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors pointed to plenty of polling violations and ballot-stuffing which are widely considered to be standard fare in Russian elections.

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Russians in general were unimpressed, with less than half of registered voters bothering to cast a ballot. It was the lowest turnout of any election since the fall of the Soviet Union with fewer than 40% showing up. The two cities with the highest number of opposition voters were quiet. The Moscow turnout was about 30% and just under 20% for Saint Petersburg.

For our Russian language readers we recommend the Medusa media analysis of the election at this link.

Putin’s Driver Killed in Car Crash

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There must have been a full moon over Moscow on 05 September because the next morning brought out the usual band of strange reports with the crash on Kutuzovsky Avenue which killed one of Vladimir Putin’s drivers.

It wasn’t long before press members were being deluged by the same cadre of conspiracy theory spinners with their questions that seem at times to be extreme manifestations of drug overdose, or perhaps mental retardation.  Sadly, most of these clowns have access to internet radio shows, blogs, and YouTube channels and love to masquerade as underground journalists.

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Some wanted to know if it was an attempt by the opposition to assassinate the president. Others hatched the idea that the car was being driven as a “decoy” to confuse opposition members in the Kremlin’s inner circle from knowing where Mr. Putin was at the time.

Some loudly proclaimed that it was a plot by American president Obama to kill Putin and wanted clues seeking confirmation that the CIA had been involved. Others were convinced that the Clinton campaign orchestrated the accident as payback for Russian hackers who reaped top secret info from Mrs. Clinton’s unprotected email mail servers.

Oh Lord, the display of ignorance is stunning. So, we’ll review some facts here. As usual, facts have a way of exposing empty conspiracy theories.

Fact: the Kremlin does not use decoys on busy streets. When Mr. Putin travels on city streets, all traffic is shut down and the presidential motorcade takes over the entire roadway. There are police motorcycle or patrol car escorts at the front, then several presidential cars depending on who is traveling with him, at least two or more SUVs with highly trained members of the Presidential Protective Service, and normal protocol has two ambulances following at the rear.

Fact: presidential motorcades are very unpopular in a city with such massive traffic problems, and therefore Mr. Putin’s most common form of transportation between the presidential residence at Novo-Ogaryovo (outside Moscow) and on the rare days when he comes into Moscow to the Kremlin, is a special squad of helicopters which land on the helipad inside the Kremlin territory.

Even in areas away from the centre of Moscow, as seen below, Mr. Putin prefers to travel by helicopter for short distance events.


Theory: Putin hides his schedule because he is afraid of those around him.

Fact: while there have been such incidents, those are very rare. There are times when his schedule is veiled, but not usually. On Sept 6 he was in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) to lay flowers at the grave of recently deceased Uzbek president Islam Karimov. He also met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain at the Kremlin, and conducted a meeting in the Kremlin’s St Catherine Hall with leaders of his United Russia party regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In the days before, he had attended the G20 summit in China. His schedule was widely known and there would have been no need to send out a car as a “decoy” that traveled in normal lanes with a single occupant in daytime traffic. Had someone planned a “hit” as the theory goes, they would have known in advance to come to the Kremlin, not send a car to hit a lone driver traveling in a standard lane on a busy avenue.

Fact: such a “hit” would have to be highly coordinated with informants and spotters assisting the driver of a hit car. But again, Mr. Putin does not travel on busy streets in a car without multiple advance and rear escorts.

For what it is worth, the car involved in the crash  is registered to the Federation Council, the upper house (Senate) of parliament. It was not registered to the presidential administration of which there are hundreds, over 700 in number, of official cars. It was not traveling in the centre lane that is reserved for government officials, nor was the car carrying the required flashing blue light had it been on official business.

The CCTV video accounts of the accident show that things happened so fast that it is difficult to tell many of the accident details leading up to the crash. But, attempts to label it as a CIA attempt or some other plot to take out the Russian president are just stunningly ignorant.

 

A Crime: One Last Hand for Pavel

We reported it here on 05 October 2011. That was the day when clapping hands in public became a crime in Belarus.

Following months of protests after the stolen elections in 2010, the streets of Belarus were filled with peaceful citizen protesters. Pavel Sheremet was there, reporting from the thick of it all as journalists were beaten and dragged off to jail like anyone else who dared to defy the dictatorship’s curfew. Pavel was one of those who was arrested and then suffered at the hands of the KGB thugs who protect president-for-life Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Thousands of brave citizens, longing for freedom, made their stand. It was not a pretty sight as the violence unleashed against a people was like something most in the West have never seen. In a country where ordinary citizens cannot possess weapons, citizens were forced to use their hands. Literally.

Public gatherings were banned, but citizens gathered anyway. They marched while shouting slogans and holding banners. Then, slogans and banners were banned. So, using social media they mobilized in groups by walking up and down streets while clapping hands in unison.

Hand-clapping in public was banned.

That brought on the “silent protests” with groups walking together quietly. It was not long before that too, was declared to be illegal.

On Saturday, the 23rd day of July in 2016, hand-clapping in public was once again heard in Belarus. It began slowly at first, as the body of murdered journalist Pavel Sheremet was carried from his funeral service at All Saints Church to the waiting burial van. As the van proceeded to the Northern Cemetery just outside Minsk, small groups of onlookers stood along the way to clap as Pavel’s body traveled to his final resting place.

It was one last hand for Pavel.

Rest in Peace: Pavel Sheremet

First in Kyiv (Kiev) and then in Minsk, thousands stood in line to say farewell to slain journalist Pavel Sheremet who was murdered when a car bomb exploded under the car he was driving last Wednesday.

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Sheremet’s funeral was held at All Saints Orthodox Cathedral in Minsk, the city of his birth. He was buried next to his father in a cemetery outside of Minsk.

In the video below, the hand clapping is a symbol of resistance as the government of Belarus has outlawed the clapping of hands in public. Public hand clapping became a symbol of opposition to the dictatorship after the government ordered that public gatherings of opposition groups were to be non-verbal.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered round the clock bodyguards for Olena Prytula, Pavel’s partner. She is the founding editor of Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. Just a few years ago one of the newspaper’s journalists was murdered while covering corruption stories regarding president Viktor Yanukovich who was ousted in the 2014 revolution.

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Slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (February 2015) at left with recently murdered opposition journalist Pavel Sheremet (July 2016).

Speaking to reporters while under house arrest in Moscow, Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said of Sheremet: “Governments always knew that he understood them well and always hated him for that. Sheremet faced jail in Belarus, he was persecuted in Russia, and he was being followed in Ukraine.”

In the video below, Pavel interviewed Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who was murdered in Moscow in 2015.

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“Россия семимильными шагами движется к катастрофе, которую, мне кажется, остановить нельзя…” – Павел Шеремет  (Russia is moving by leaps and bounds to the catastrophe, which, it seems to me, can not be stopped … ” – Pavel Sheremet.

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Pavel hosted a daily news show on Radio Vesti.

Farewell to Pavel Sheremet

Pavel Sheremet was fond of saying that, “The world can be better…,” but right now we honestly wonder, how? When will the killing stop? Does journalism matter in a world so corrupt? Can transparency make a difference?

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photo: Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe

Thanks to Meduza correspondent Katerina Gordeeva, a former Sheremet colleague who penned a wonderful tribute Wednesday afternoon in honour of her fallen friend. She recalled that, “The main thing about Pasha was his broad smile. And his belly laughs. Sheremet could laugh so hard, so contagiously and carefree, in a way it seems is possible only for children and those rare adults with a clear conscience….he believed quite childishly that the world can be changed for the better, if only you speak the truth.”

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In hindsight, it seems fitting that it was Pavel Sheremet who helped lead the memorial services for his friend, slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Boris was gunned down on the streets of Moscow in February 2015, just steps from the Kremlin. Pavel was killed by a car bomb Wednesday in the centre of Kyiv (Kiev) while on his way to host his daily radio show.

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A farewell service is planned today (Friday) in Kyiv, after which it is expected that his body will be flown to Minsk, his birthplace. Belarus stripped Pavel of his citizenship after covering the massive citizen election protests of 2010, but Belarusian authorities are expected to allow a Паннихида (memorial service) to take place on Saturday in All Saints’ Church at 121 Kalinovskaya Street, at the corner of Kalinovskaya and Vsesvyatskaya in Minsk.

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All Saints Orthodox Church in Minsk, Belarus.

Pavel is expected to be laid to rest next to his father’s grave in Northern Cemetery, outside the city in the Minsk region, south of SD Yakubovich. Pavel is survived by his mother.

May God have mercy on his soul, and grant his servant Pavel eternal memory.

Car Bomb Kills Journalist in Ukraine

Pavel SheremetJust yesterday Pavel Sheremet had written an article about the new memorial monument recently erected in the closed nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk (Russia). On Wednesday morning he started his car and pulled out of the parking lot where he lived with fellow-journalist Olena Prytula. On the way to his new radio show, his car was idling at a traffic light in the centre of Kyiv (Kiev) when a bomb exploded, killing him instantly.

Only recently he had left Russian Television Channel ORT after mounting complaints on the content of his show from the Kremlin for his reporting on the annexation of Crimea, and the presence of Russian troops fighting with rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

He had been beaten and imprisoned due to his reports on the freedom protests in Belarus. Yet, Pavel was the kind of investigative journalist who seemed to fear nothing. He was unafraid of issuing critical reports which often angered the Kremlin in Russia, the dictatorship in his native home (Minsk) in Belarus, and the corrupt regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Sheremet had received numerous awards including the prestigious freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the prize for journalism and democracy from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation).

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty is reporting that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has asked the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to assist Ukrainian investigators in the murder investigation in order to ensure “maximum transparency.”

Pavel will be missed. Memory eternal! Вечная память!

 

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Coup in Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government seemed threatened last night, but then it began to appear that the tide was turning. The coup, led by mid-ranking military leaders, seemingly has not been able to sustain their drive to force Erdogan from office.

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Military troops took over the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.

Many world leaders have condemned the coup, including US president Barrack Obama. That is not surprising given Obama’s ties to the Islamic Brotherhood, a status shared by Erdogan. Over recent years Erdogan has moved to subvert the Turkish Constitution and has packed the courts with Islamic hardliners who share his vision of converting Turkey into a full-fledged Islamic Republic.

Erdogan has also replaced many top military leaders prior to the coup with those of his own choosing. Turkey’s Constitution actually authorizes for the military to perform checks and balances against any government that might wish to move from a secular state to an Islamic one. When Barrack Hussein Obama calls for Turkish citizens to honour the democratically elected government–perhaps he might wish to brush up on the Turkish founding documents first.

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Turkish president Erdogan.

Erdogan is no friend of democracy and has systematically curtailed freedoms, including  harsh policies towards Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey.

One big question is what will Russia do during this time of Turkish instability? Turkey has the largest standing NATO allied military in Europe. Russia and Turkey have been at odds on everything from the Islamic state (ISIS) which often enjoys support by Erdogan, to the downing of Russian military aircraft over Turkish and Syrian airspace.

If there is a vacuum of any length, count on Vladimir Putin to try to fill it.

 

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