Medvedev begins overhaul of Central Election Commission

President Medvedev began his promised overhaul of the Central Election Commission and in particular he signed three laws aimed at further improving the national political system while helping to reduce the number of election law violations.

Co-chairing the meeting along with CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov, the President met with ranking members of the Commission also with representatives from every level down to the precinct commissions.

CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov

The Central Election Commission will be responsible for the  State Duma elections in December. This year, regional and municipal elections will be held at the same time making the December election one of the largest and most significant election campaign in recent years. The Presidential election will be held separately in March of 2012.

Reminding participants that the Duma election results will determine the distribution of political power in the nation for the upcoming period, Mr. Medvedev told the commissioners that they held a special responsibility in ensuring the lawfulness and openness of the preparations for these elections, as well as their outcomes.

President Medvedev has worked with the Commission to create additional guarantees for fair political competition, saying that many of the changes were necessary to ensure more transparent execution of electoral procedures. The President said that, “we have also relied on significant practice in law enforcement, consulted with the Central Election Commission, and taken into account the opinions of political parties, whom I meet with regularly.”

Three new laws were signed by Mr. Medvedev. The first governs voting outside of polling places, regulatingthis procedure and thereby minimising the potential for abuse. The new law takes into account the needs of citizens who have difficulties leaving their homes, disabled persons, and the elderly, and also strictly specifies the number of mobile ballot boxes and limits the number of so-called reserve ballots for the mobile group of the election commissions.

The second law gives parties the right to self-determine the candidacies of the politicians who are to hold available posts within regional parliaments and municipal assemblies. This law gives parties the same right as is enjoyed by State Duma Deputies – the procedure for replacing deputy seats – at the regional and municipal level.

The third law establishes common forms for petitions at regional and local elections, determines procedures for filling out those petitions and the basis for deeming voters’ signatures invalid.

As part of improving the legal and regulatory framework the President repeated his pledge of new technical equipment for election committees and to fully complete the process by 2015. Currently about 5% of Russian polling stations have access to electronic voting and counting machines,  about 5000 polling places.

Mr. Medvedev concluded the meeting by saying that, “clean elections determine the trust people feel toward authorities in general – all the more so with presidential elections coming up in March of next year.”

New Visa rules

There are a couple of updates which you may be interested in knowing about:

Update on the 36 month visa to Russia
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met recently in Washington and announced an agreement on new visa  issuance regimes. There was some confusion as to whether they’d first be related to business and humanitarian or would also include private and tourist visas immediately.

The US State Department says that the new procedures will include private and tourist travelers from the start.

When finalized the new procedures will include multiple-entry visas valid for 36 months.

Unfortunately for immediate travel the agreement has not yet gone into effect as it is awaiting final approval from Moscow.

 

Update on applications for a visa to the USA (from the US State Dept)
The U.S. Mission in Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok) is transitioning to a new appointment service for those applying for a visa to the United States. Starting on August 1, 2011, all applicants must visit http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ru/ to start their U.S. visa application at a consular section in Russia and to receive more information on the process. Please do not attempt to visit this site before August 1, 2011.

As of August 1, all services, including calling for information and scheduling an appointment, will be provided free of charge, although applicants will still be responsible for the visa application fee. This new procedure will reduce the overall cost for applicants, and makes the process of applying for an American visa faster and easier – marking a significant improvement over the old system.

The last day to schedule a visa appointment through PONY EXPRESS visa@ponyexpress.ru will be July 29, 2011. If you plan to travel to the United States after August 19, 2011, we recommend you wait to schedule your appointment online at http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ru/ on August 1, 2011.

Consular officers from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow will answer questions about the new appointment service during a live web chat on July 28, 2011 at 15:00 (Moscow time). Log on as a guest at https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/moscow/ and submit your questions in either English or Russian.

Russian statesman / journalist Dmitry Furman: the legacy

Respected Russian Political Scientist, Author and Journalist Dmitry Yefimovich Furman (Дми́трий Ефи́мович Фу́рман) died on 22 July. Born in Moscow in 1941, Dr. Furman was Director of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

One might not always see eye to eye on every issue, but Dmitry Furman’s dedication to his homeland, his professionalism, and his insight commanded respect from every corner. Today we offer our respects and pray that his memory will be eternal.

Dmitry earned his PhD from Moscow State University in 1965 and over the years authored works on Ukraine, Belarus, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Baltics. Considered an expert on the state of religion in both pre and post Soviet history he produced works on religion in post-Soviet Russia as well as a collection of his political journalism titled Our Last Ten Years which was published in 2001.

From an interview in the Prague Watchdog:

The book Chechnya and Russia: Societies and States, which you edited and which appeared right at the beginning of the second Chechen war, was imbued with anti-war sentiment. Does that mean that when you were putting the book together you had absolutely no idea of how events were going to develop, the scenario they were going to follow? And could the situation really have turned out any differently?

Dmitry Furman: When we were putting the book together (and the situation was the breathing-space between the wars) my feeling was that even though a second war was approaching and was practically unavoidable, there was none the less some chance of stopping it. And so we tried to get the book out before the war started, and to do this in such a way that the book would become a factor, no matter how tiny, that might change the situation.

People always think that what has happened was bound to happen. Human consciousness is so constituted that we find it very difficult to find alternatives in the past. And yet I think there were some meagre chances that events could have taken a different turn. It is very hard now to say what those options might have been, when the opportunity was missed, but they certainly existed, even though by now they are very hard to see with the naked eye.

But what did in fact happen – the second war and its result – was the most likely scenario and the most natural one.

Prague Watchdog: And what were the reasons for that? Who was to blame? How would you yourself define the set of causes?

Dmitry Fruman: The main one is undoubtedly that Russia has followed the path of centralization and the construction of an authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regime, in which any compromise with independent territories has been impossible. As soon as the vector of political change had developed in this way, it was impossible to leave Chechnya alone.

In addition, it must be borne in mind that Russia’s defeat in the first war was a terrible humiliation for the whole of Russian society. And among the elite, and possibly in the rest of society, too, a spontaneous consensus formed – the humiliation had to be wiped away, it had to be compensated for.

Chechnya’s ungovernable character, the provocative role played by Basayev in his Dagestan campaign – these are also causes, but they are secondary ones. To a very large extent we ourselves have contributed to the situation becoming uncontrollable – in theory it could have been more orderly. The fantastical, hysteria-charged plans that emerged from Chechen leaders of the Basayev variety were also a result of our rapid and very tangible evolution into authoritarianism and war.

 

Dmitry Furman on Putin handing over power to someone else in 2008, from Russia in Global Affairs. № 2, April – June 2008:
Putin’s decision marks a step toward the modernization of Russian mentality that was fashioned by centuries of tsarist autocracy, which suggested that “once a Tsar, always a Tsar.” Second, it implies divesting supreme power of the sacral and personified properties. Third, it sets a precedent whereby a ruler submits himself to “a piece of paper” – the Constitution.

Dmitry Furman on President Medvedev from Russia in Global Affairs. № 2, April – June 2009:
There is no doubt that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wants Russia to become a free country ruled by law. One would be a naive cynic – and cynics are often naive – to think that a person could say “Freedom is better than not being free,” while actually thinking “Isn’t it clever of me to deceive these fools?”

However, let us imagine that the president is indeed full of resolve to put the country on the track towards greater freedom. This is easy to imagine; all the more so because his pro-democratic, legitimacy-related aspirations may stand in accordance with his other natural desires, such as independent actions, real rather than formal personal power, respect and popularity. Many people now dream of a thaw after “Putin’s freeze.”

This is an ideal, liberal scenario, so let us analyze it in more detail. The whole story begins with certain phrases and symbolic gestures that place Medvedev, the president, some distance away from his predecessor Vladimir Putin, who left Russia somewhat frost-bitten before he became prime minister. Polls show a flagging trust in the prime minister (which has happened as well). Medvedev makes a number of statements, saying that the scale of this crisis stems in some measure from previous mistakes, uttering phrases like “the mistakes we made earlier.” Yet everyone understands who is actually meant by “we.” The president’s rating begins to climb above that of the prime minister, who suddenly turns up “in charge of crisis management” (this has not happened yet, although it is quite likely).

This is not all that important in itself, but it has a symbolic significance. Everyone is waiting for the climax of the story. As a man of good morals, the president understands he owes much to the prime minister, who was his predecessor, but he also understands the government’s flaws, his personal responsibility to the people and the interests of the state, which prevail over his personal feelings. Time passes and Putin steps down as prime minister with honors (what he will do next is a big headache for Russia, but we can think up something). And then it turns out that the people really do not care, the top bureaucracy has been longing to see this, and the liberals are walking on air. The West is also satisfied and it hopes that the thaw will bring about a detente.

Dmitry Furman on modern day Russian democracy from The Post-Soviet Penumbra:
…countries in which power has never been transferred to the opposition, or indeed to anyone not nominated by the authorities themselves. There are four of these: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, ruled today by Nursultan Nazarbaev and Islam Karimov, both former First Secretaries of the cp Central Committee of their respective republics; Turkmenistan, ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, also a member of the Soviet nomenklatura, until his death in 2006, when the presidency was handed to one of his comrades-in-arms; and Russia, where power has twice been transferred—but to men designated by their predecessors. These are what I have termed ‘imitation democracies’, characterized by a huge disparity between formal constitutional principles and the reality of authoritarian rule.

 

Dmitry Furman on Ukaine from The Post-Soviet Penumbra:
Ukraine experienced one democratic rotation of power, in 1994, from its first post-Soviet president Leonid Kravchuk to the second, Leonid Kuchma; the latter then made an unsuccessful attempt to establish an ‘imitation democratic’ regime, leading in turn to the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004. At present, a democratic system is stabilizing in Ukraine, gradually and with great difficulty. Belarus, on the other hand, currently has a harsh authoritarian regime. But it has not been on this path from the beginning: President Lukashenko was democratically elected in 1994 as a representative of the opposition.

 

Dmitry Furman on the relationship of Religious faith to Democracy from The Post-Soviet Penumbra:
In my view, the deepest factor is the religious-cultural one. It is no coincidence that the first group consists of countries with a Western religious-cultural tradition—mostly Lutheran and Catholic, with the idiosyncratic addition of Orthodox Moldova. The countries in the second, authoritarian group are Muslim, with the exception of Russia. The rapid construction of democracy after 1991 in the Baltic states is undoubtedly connected to their Western religious-cultural affiliation—there was no comparably rapid or successful transition to democracy in any of the Orthodox, or mainly Orthodox, countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Georgia).

The influence of Orthodoxy on political systems is a much larger question, worthy of separate discussion; but it is evident that Orthodoxy had a different impact from Lutheranism and Catholicism, and a less favourable one for post-Soviet democratization. Similarly, the reasons why democratic processes have encountered most obstacles in the Islamic world are complex, and the social influence of Islam is the subject of intense debate; but the same obvious facts apply in the post-Soviet space as in the rest of the world.

Of course, religious-cultural affiliations are in part a product of geography. The proximity of the Baltic states to Western Europe was important in determining their inclusion in the West. But it was not geography per se that led to this; rather, it was historical processes—the conquest of Estonia and Latvia in the 13th century by Germanic knights, the union of Lithuania with Poland in the 16th.

 

Dmitry Furman on Nagorno Karabakh:
The prospects of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement based on recent negotiation are vague and irrelevant. There are examples of successful talks between representatives of the states the population of which experienced a very negative attitude towards each other, for example the agreements concluded by Sadat and Begin in Camp David. Nevertheless I think
that nothing can be expected from the Armenian-Azeri talks in the
near future.

Dmitry Furman from Russian Peace and Democracy:
…first of all, in the past, the contact with foreigners was the most important status symbol in Russia. Anybody – the peace movement – were status symbol. And people wanted to belong to Pugwash or other peace movement only to get the possibility to come out. Now it is not important. Now we can take a tourist trip anywhere. Now we are much more rich than before, so there is no great interest in this political contact, or these conferences. Then the peace movement and so on, all these kind of movements were in the Soviet period a very important part of official ideology — the struggle for peace against imperialistic aggressors and so on. So all these contacts were important for the officials as well. Our rulers. Now it is not important for them as well. Naturally.

I think that spontaneous movements of this kind may appear in 20 or 30 years but not now. There is no psychological or intellectual soil for these movements. Movements of the soviet period were not real spontaneous movements. Now we are not in the period of such movements. Not now.

Dmitry Furman on Chenhnya from Russian Peace and Democracy:
As far as separatism goes, I wrote a book about separatism a few years ago and I take a very strong position that almost always separatist movements are destructive. I want democracy, not separatism. I think that the export and import of democracy is more or less impossible. The society must be prepared by its internal development for its democracy. And all premature attempts to impose democracy can lead only to backlashes and to reactions. Of course it is possible to help create democracy. It is a very, very complicated task. And I think that the Western powers in Russia played a not very good role for creating democracy.

I believe in spreading democracy through nonviolence and support – not imposing democracy. Never something like what happened in Iraq. But always supporting and assisting grassroots groups in countries that need help. I believe in that. And I believe in working with people from Burma and Tibet, for example, who have that problem.

Dmitry Furman on the character of the Russian people and the relation to self-government from Russia in Global Affairs. № 2, April – June 2006:
Russian society has nominally broken with its Soviet past and adopted democratic values. There is no serious and real ideological alternative to democracy, and it is doubtful there ever will be. However, this society is unable to live in accordance with democratic values. It is recreating a system of “uncontested power” that is increasingly similar to the Soviet one but void of any ideological foundation.

The post-Soviet Russian system is based on a profound contradiction between the formal and informal social arrangement – a contradiction which society has to hide from the world and itself (seemingly democratic and contested elections, the outcomes of which are generally known in advance; seemingly independent courts that pass judgments that serve the interests of the authorities, etc.).

Final thoughts on Dmitry from Alexei Pankin writing for The Moscow Times
When I visited my friend, political scientist Dmitry Furman, on Aug. 18, 1991, our intense discussion of the political situation in the country lasted so long that I ended up staying the night at his place. The next morning, Furman woke me up, exclaiming: “There’s been a coup! Gorbachev is out!”

I had barely awoken when he was already predicting how events would unfold. “It doesn’t matter who comes out on top — the people who organized the putsch against Gorbachev or Boris Yeltsin” he said. “The winner will destroy the opposition and cling to power as long as possible on the pretext of overcoming the chaos or of defending democracy. “Neither side will have any use for Gorbachev because of his penchant for reaching compromises and consensus among conflicting interests. This means that true democracy has already lost the battle,” he said.

Furman’s words, uttered in the first minutes after learning that tanks had been stationed on Moscow streets, have proven prophetic.

On Friday, Dmitry Furman, the renowned thinker, political scientist and journalist, passed away. I first met and became friends with Furman at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies. He was unusual among Soviet Americanologists. At that time, most people in the field either characterized the United States as the evil empire, or else they faithfully recounted whatever they read on the subject from U.S. books and magazines barely concealing their feelings of inferiority considering how far the Soviet Union lagged behind the United States.

Furman’s distinction was that he was an objective scholar. Although Furman was Russian, he was genuinely concerned with developments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. In his books, he finished only shortly before his death, he treated the subject as if these independent republics were still his country. His works will be relevant for many years to come. Although the situation in each former republic is changing rapidly, their political cultures were formed over the course of centuries. Studying that past will always provide a meaningful reference point for understanding the present.

We have lost a man worthy of being considered a classic and timeless scholar of international relations.

Read the Moscow Times article here.

This is a great loss for Russia.

Medvedev or Putin: who will run for president?

President Medvedev is in the region of Vladimir this weekend, chairing preparations for next year’s celebrations of the 1150th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian state. That will be a big deal and Russia will put on quite a celebration, so for those interested in visiting Russia, next year will be a great time to enjoy those festivities.

It was on 02 March 2008 that Dmitry Medvedev was selected as the third democratically elected president of a free Russia. In some ways in seems like just yesterday but in other ways it seems like light years ago. Russia watchers are very interested in what will happen in the coming election of 04 March 2012 because on that date Russia will hold elections for the office of president and naturally there is wide speculation as to whether it will be President Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin standing for office.

Constitutionally the date is normally scheduled on either the first or second Sunday of March, and the election would have been scheduled for 11 March, however that particular Sunday will be a regular working day for most Russians because the previous week will have been “Women’s Day” in Russia, a public holiday.

So, who will run on 04 March: will it be Dmitry Medvedev or Vladimir Putin? I can only tell you what I think and must preface that with the real possibility that I could be wrong.

One thing is certain, however, that the tandem of Medvedev and Putin has done an excellent job of sidelining the potential opposition. How can the opposition run against the unknown? It is an election where the majority party refused to name their candidate and could likely continue this posture right up to the last minute. Think of the headaches it gives to any opposition: It is impossible to hold debates if you don’t know who is running. Effective political advertising attacks the opponent, but how do you advise against a blank ticket? Further, how can a party raise voter interest and funds for campaigns if there is no opposing candidate?

Also we must acknowledge than in Russia the opposition has been sidelined and weakened by more than just a blank ticket. There are those who say that the two men are really one in the same and so the opposition should run against both. Truth is, both have been very effective in carving out different images while maintaining a closely held agenda, making it difficult to run against both. Truth also is that when you combine the popularity indexes of both men, it would be madness to challenge both from a pure numbers perspective.

On the other hand even native Russian journalists are beginning to speak and write more openly of signs of friction between the two camps. In comments that went largely unnoticed by the Western press during the recent BRICS nations conference in China, Medvedev proclaimed that he had not ruled out running and then said, “It is high time for changes.” That remark came on the heels of Medvedev’s public statement that Mr. Putin’s comments regarding Libya were “unacceptable.”

Those who read my blog or articles in publications understand that I’ve not been part of the “Putin is King and Medvedev is his lackey” crowd. True that the two have been together since University days in Leningrad/Saint Petersburg, but both are strong and independent minded individuals. Dmitry Medvedev comes across differently with his collegiate sweaters, his internet blogging savvy and skills as an amateur photographer while accompanied by his well-liked wife, Svetlana. Medvedev is a true “people person” whereas Putin is styled as a loner and prefers to be shown bare chested while shooting a lion in the wild. Make no mistake however, Medvedev is no pushover as he is so often, and so very wrongly, pictured in Western media.

There is a comfort factor also to be considered. Putin had grown tired and bored with diplomatic life. That is a daily task of those who would take on the title of President of a powerful country. He dislikes the USA and just about any other nation aligned with NATO and he quickly grows bored at important meetings of the G7 (and G20), BRICS, etc. Medvedev on the other hand is much more of a people person and revels in the game of diplomacy.

Conversely it is Putin who revels in the idea of a “father of the nation” image, conveniently bypassing the Yeltsin legacy as good and bad as it was in those early days. It was during Putin’s second term that the Kremlin had the Russian Orthodox Church investigate the idea of a return to a very limited Romanov dynasty idea whereby a powerful Prime Minister or President would run the country but with the symbols of an old European legacy restored, in name only of course.

That idea however wasn’t just Putin’s. As I wrote in 2008, Kremlin leaders in the Yeltsin and then Putin administrations had been enchanted with the concept of “replacing the current Russian Federation Constitution with one that restores some form of monarchy, the Kremlin could continue the bolstering of Russian pride and culture while at the same time issuing a call to former Russian nations/republics to rejoin the Federation.” “Given that Russia was governed in tandem with the Tsars, and the Russian Orthodox Church providing political stability along the way, perhaps the first step was the accomplishment of the family of Tsar Nicholas II as minor saints back in 2000.”

It was during the time, October 2008, that the Supreme Court declared Nicholas II and his family to be victims of political repression. Soon thereafter Alexander Zakatov, director of the Romanov Emperor House Chancery, announced that the government had cleared the way for the Romanov Chancery to return to Saint Petersburg in fundraising and charitable roles. Zakatov announced then that the Romanov name was “returning to its native land, working in cultural, charitable and other nonpolitical programs for Russia’s benefit — that is what the house (of Romanov) is able and indebted to do.”

At that time some speculated that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna who lived in Madrid with her son Georgy Mikhailovich could be used to form some sort of basis for a partially restored Monarchy with Vladimir Putin in real control of the workings of the government. The potential pitfalls were/are many and the idea has not surfaced as of late.

Back to 2012: Who will run? Many believe that the rift has widened. Yet their visions on the greatness of Russia are enough to continue in tandem for awhile. More importantly however, there simply is no opposition today strong enough to mount a successful challenge to either of the two. Recent poles however do indicate that Russians have tired of a two-headed leadership, the Russian double-headed eagle notwithstanding, and would like to see one leader at the top.

If Vladimir Putin were as strong as some pundits opine, then he’d have already announced. That is his nature–in fact he loves a good fight and would rather bloody a worthy opponent that rollover a weak nobody. He understands that Medvedev, in many ways his partner, is up for a fight and neither is at this point guaranteed a win. Putin understands that the power in the shadows, those who really rule Russia, have grown in numbers and are split in allegiance. He simply doesn’t have a green light from those who really matter.

Neither does Medvedev. But Medvedev is the name on the upswing right now and for what it’s worth, I would not be surprised to see Dmitry Medvedev on the ticket for another term. Many could argue that this outcome would be good for Russia.

Those in the shadows, the ones who truly dispense power, see the world differently from the old KGB bosses of yesteryear. I am not the only one who suggests that Putin despises Obama and must work hard to conceal his contempt. A great number of those in the shadows understand that Medevdev’s diplomacy has done much to open Russia to trade and diversification of the economy. Putin on the other hand seems to have little interest in diversification as long as there is oil and gas in the ground.

Both men believe in a strong Russia that is dominant in the region. In spite of President of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev’s hospitalization for prostate surgery in Germany, Russia along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, is moving forward on what is often called a “customs and postal union.” By treaty, Russia will coordinate customs and passport control activities of each of these countries, the postal service of each country and a planned phasing in of a common Ruble currency. Medvedev is working with the bankrupt and corrupt government of Belarus for Russia to coordinate all security forces communications between the countries as well. Ukraine is being courted as part of the “union” but is not yet in the fold. Kazakhstan’s corrupt Nazarbayev has been President since 1991 when the Soviet Union fell. In the last election he “won” with 95.5 percent of the vote.

Which brings us to the topic of fair elections. In the last Russian election Mr. Medvedev won with 71.25% of the popular vote amidst charges of rigged voting. You may recall from the 2008 election that the candidate was not named until late in the game. Medvedev was formally named as the United Russia party candidate on 10 December of 2007 and the election was just 4 short months later.

Sound familiar?

An April Russian Public Opinion Foundation report says that 43 per cent of Russians would vote for a combined Medvedev/Putin tandem, down from a 2009 high of 56 per cent. However polls also indicate that when considered individually, Medvedev is gaining strength.

But do these polls matter, and more importantly do citizen votes matter?

A great deal of work has been done by the citizen press, Russian free journalists and bloggers who have no official ties to the government. As just one example, a very savvy livejournal blogger named “Avmalgin” published copies of the voter protocols for a polling station in Moscow, #1,702. That certified document listed 192 votes for United Russia, then 98 for the Communist Party, 50 for A Just Russia, 38 votes for the Yabloko party and three small parties split the remaining 86 votes. But while Russia’s Central Election Commission reported the exact numbers for all the minority parties, by some miracle they raised United Russia total from 192 to a whopping 742 votes. That is quite an increase. Similar examples poured in from across Russia. It is no wonder as popular blogger Larussophobe reported, the head of the Central Election Commission threatened to prosecute those who published independent election data as “terrorists.”

So, why the wait for an announcement? There is no hurry and no strong challenger with whom to do battle. Right or wrong, the two men from whom the announcement will eventually come simply see no reason to rush.

As it stands right now time is on their side.

Are Medvedev and Putin captains on the Titanic?

The presence of true and respected opposition is an important part of democracy. Any legitimate government needs an opposition and not just a “managed opposition” effort existing solely for the sake of appearances. Despite what some may fear, efforts of true opposition are a good sign of progress and the long term prospects for freedom in the former Soviet sphere.

Grassroots opposition is building within Russia and appears young and very creative as well. We all remember the story of the Titanic, that grand “unsinkable” ship that sank on its maiden voyage. White true that most of us don’t remember the actual event, the sinking of the Titanic happened on 15 April 1912, the movie has made the event very real for following generations.

In a current posting of popular sites such as LiveJournal, Facebook, vkontake and Youtube, a short video version of the Титаник (Titanic) has surfaced and this time Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have replaced Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the two who stand on the bridge of a sinking Russia.

Creators of the video say the Титаник (Titanic) represents a symbol of what is happening to their country. In their view a wealthy elite class has stolen Russia’s wealth and the presence of the ruling party United Russia and Putin’s latest creation of the “All-Russia Popular Front” serve as nothing more than window dressing according to this new generation of Russian voters.

Legitimate opposition keeps the other side at least somewhat honest. But yet the allowance for opposing voices remains a difficult thing in Russia. The Justice Ministry banned PARNAS, the Party of People’s Freedoma, from participating in the upcoming elections. Keep in mind that PARNAS is not some group of extremists, rather it is a center-right opposition party, founded by well-known democratic politicians including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, former Duma Vice Chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov and others. PARNAS is a legitimate movement, neither radical nor violent, yet it has essentially been sidelined by fiat.

Russia is in so many ways a great country inhabited by a great people. Thus it seems likely that a true representative democracy yet awaits Russia. Likely it will be nurtured by the young and the creative.

Belarus dictator sends opposition leader to prison colony

Andrei Sannikov to be transferred to Navapolatsk penal colony

Andrei Sannikov, a recent Belarussian presidential candidate just last December, has been sentenced to a penal colony according to sources inside Belarus.  His wife, Irina Khalip, was informed of this latest news on Monday (18 July) after her meeting with the Interior Ministry.

Sannikov, who was leader of European Belarus campaign, is scheduled to be sent to Navapolatsk, a penal colony in Belarus on July 25.

Human rights groups have reported that Mr. Sannikov is suffering from poor health in his unvented cell and have pleased with the authorities to provide either air conditioning or ventilation but Belarus cannot afford the electricity to provide proper air venting in many prisons across the country and those requests have gone unheeded.

The conditions are difficult for him. He seldom goes for a walk, because the only opportunity to stay alone or almost alone to write a letter is to refuse from walks. It’s very stuffy in the cell. It turns into a real gas chamber when electricity is cut off and fans do not work. His chronic diseases aggravated. He suffers from gastritis and gout,” his wife reported.

Belarus continues to be run by a violent and deranged dictator who rules by fear. His KGB enjoys employing Gestapo type methods against citizens.

Mrs. Khalip said that her husband has been told about the silent protests each Wednesday and he supports their efforts.

New Ambassadors to Russia accepted at Kremlin

It has been a busy week for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. First he was in Washington to meet with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, regarding topics ranging from visa rule changes to Libya and then Mr. Lavrov arrived back in Moscow just in time to present new ambassadors to Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev.

New Ambassadors to Russia meet President Medvedev in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Inside the ornate Saint Alexander Hall of the Kremlin’s Grand Palace, President Medvedev received letters of credentials from eleven new ambassadors to the Russian Federation from Argentina, Burundi, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, India, Rwanda, El Salvador, Vatican, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Japan.

President Medvedev received new Ambassadors from:

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic – new Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation,

Juan Carlos Kreckler – the Argentine Republic,

Guillaume Ruzoviyo – the Republic of Burundi,

Anita Cristina Echeverria Escher – the Republic of El Salvador,

Filiberto Ntutumu Nguema – the Republic of Equatorial Guinea,

Kasahun Dender Melese – the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,

Ajai Malhotra – the Republic of India,

Tikahito Harada – Japan,

Christine Nkulikiyinka – the Republic of Rwanda,

Pham Xuan Son – the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,

Bonifes Guva Britto Chidyausiku – the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Photo below: According to tradition, the Russian Foreign Minister stands next to the President as each new Ambassador is accepted.

(Left) Ethiopia's new Ambassador, Mr. Kasahun Dender Melese, meets President Medvedev (right).