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Reports Archive

Russia Report: January 18, 2008

The Making Of A President

By RFE/RL analyst Robert Coalson

Dmitry Medvedev in Svetly, Kaliningrad Oblast, during one of his recent regional visits

Even as the Russian Foreign Ministry was condemning the January 5 presidential election in Georgia for alleged violations, the president-making machine in Moscow was swinging into action.


The ministry's complaints about Georgia -- that the vote saw "the widespread use of administrative resources, blatant pressure on the opposition candidates, and stringent restriction of access to financial and media resources" -- pretty much sum up the Kremlin's strategy for installing First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as the successor to Vladimir Putin.


The Kremlin's task in this case is easy. Polls show Medvedev already has the support of more than half of all voters and more than 70 percent of decided voters. In second place with some 13 percent of the vote, according to the Levada Center, is Putin himself, although he is not eligible to seek another term. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky are languishing with 5-7 percent, while former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov registers 1 percent or less.


Medvedev's campaign -- headed by Kremlin political guru and deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov -- has begun to activate regional administrations in support of its aims. More than 60 regional leaders who agreed to head up the local party lists of the Unified Russia party before the December Duma elections are now being pressed to head the local Medvedev campaigns as well.


Securing Officials' Support


It is a clear fusion of administrative muscle and political ambition, and illustrates exactly why this vertical of power -- in which governors are directly dependent on the Kremlin -- was created in the first place. As RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on January 11, the purpose of Medvedev's recent trips to the regions -- he has made widely covered visits to Murmansk and Kaliningrad in recent days -- is not to meet with voters but to establish working relations with local officials. In addition to the normal task of creating a plausible scenario to arrive at a predetermined percentage of the vote for Medvedev, governors will also have the more difficult task of persuading voters that the so-called national projects -- sweeping reforms in the areas of housing, health care, education, and agriculture that Medvedev has overseen -- have brought them benefits on the ground.


The yoking of the country's administrative resources to the goals of Unified Russia proved powerfully effective in December. In Ingushetia, for instance, the local administration claimed that 98.35 percent of voters turned out in December, and 98.72 percent of them voted for Unified Russia. In the face of these unrealistic figures, local activists began collecting statements from voters who swore that they did not go to the polls at all. Last week, the movement announced it had collected such statements from more than 87,000 voters, about 54 percent of the republic's entire electorate. The activists have said that if prosecutors refuse to investigate, they will take their complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.


Although the likely levels of falsification in the North Caucasus -- in war-torn Chechnya, 99 percent of voters came out, according to official figures, and 99.36 percent of them voted for Unified Russia -- are colorfully extravagant, the pro-Kremlin forces benefited from administrative resources across the country. In the Duma elections, opposition party events were thwarted, election materials were impounded, demonstrations were banned, opposition candidates' access to voters was restricted, and media support was as intensely biased toward the pro-Kremlin parties on the local level as on the national. As political analyst Sergei Markov told RFE/RL's Russian Service, "you can't have too many political resources."


Meanwhile, the two candidates trying to make the ballot without the support of a party represented in the Duma -- Kasyanov and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov -- have been beavering away at the task of collecting the 2 million signatures required of such self-starters. Although the Democratic Party, usually seen as a Kremlin-backed pseudo-opposition group, picked up fewer than 90,000 votes in the Duma ballot, Bogdanov supporters claim they have already reached the 2 million goal. Kasyanov, on the other hand, is running up hard against the January 16 deadline. INDEM think tank analyst Yury Korgunyuk told "Vedomosti" that he thinks Kasyanov's chances of getting his signatures approved by the Central Election Commission are practically zero.


Kremlin Machinations


Bogdanov recently told "Moskovsky komsomolets" that one Kremlin tactic is to pay off or infiltrate the companies that are hired by opposition campaigns to organize the collection of signatures. They submit a certain percentage of bad signatures that the commission has no trouble finding. Of course, such machinations are impossible to prove, but it is not hard to imagine that such consulting firms could see considerable benefits from being more loyal to the Kremlin political machine than to minor candidates who have no political future.


What is easy to prove is that the Kremlin-controlled media machine is already grinding away. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote this week that the central television channels are already giving "complete supremacy" to Medvedev, and have succeeded in marginalizing the other candidates. The paper said the main channels mentioned Medvedev 344 times in the two weeks ending on January 13, while Zhirinovsky came in second with 96 references. While Medvedev received 12 full hours of coverage in the period, Kasyanov's voice was heard on state television only twice during the two-week period, as opposed to Medvedev's 172 times.


On January 26, the Central Election Commission will certify the final list of candidates and all indications are they will be Medvedev, Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, and -- for spice -- Bogdanov. The campaign begins on February 2 and voting will be March 2. But Medvedev already won the election on December 10, with 100 percent of Putin's vote.




Nationalist Appointed NATO Ambassador

By Claire Bigg

Dmitry Rogozin (file)

The appointment of nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin as Russia's representative to NATO, coming at a time of strained ties between Moscow and the Western military alliance, has been cautiously welcomed by NATO officials.

The 44-year-old politician has aggressively championed the rights of ethnic Russians and organized several so-called Russian marches -- mass street demonstrations in which participants have brandished Nazi slogans and called for the expulsion of dark-skinned foreigners.

Rogozin is also known for his stinging criticism of the West and NATO. In 2006, he described the alliance with which he will now work as a "dying organization."

But in more than one way, his appointment by President Vladimir Putin on January 10 is in line with the Kremlin's interests. "This sends a signal to NATO that Russia is not at all pleased with NATO's actions, particularly concerning the alliance's expansion to the east," says Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor in chief of the Moscow-based journal "Russia In Global Affairs."

Moscow views NATO as a tool for the United States and Europe to challenge Russia's rising influence. In that sense, Rogozin, who has called for a Russian military buildup to counter NATO's eastward expansion, embodies his country's increasingly assertive stance toward the Atlantic alliance.

Rogozin also endorses Moscow's position on Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, an issue on which Russia and the West have been at loggerheads. He recently said that if appointed NATO envoy, he would back Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, in opposing UN plans to grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence.

He has also spoken against Washington's proposal to deploy parts of a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russia says would threaten its national security.

Talented, But Controversial Politician

For Russia's political elite, sending Rogozin to Brussels is also a smart domestic move since it pushes an influential rival out of the Russian political scene, just weeks before a key presidential election.

"Rogozin is an undeniably dynamic, gifted politician with good perspectives in Russian politics," Lukyanov says. "When his potential became clear, he was carefully isolated from Russian politics. But even as an ultranationalist opposition figure, he has always remained respectful and loyal to President Putin. This is why Putin has not forgotten about him, and his appointment shows that Putin trusts him."

Rogozin's Rodina (Motherland) party was barred from elections to the Moscow city parliament in 2005 after a party campaign ad was ruled racist. The controversial spot, which urged voters to "clean up Moscow of rubbish," appeared to denigrate migrants from the Caucasus.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer gave a cautious welcome to Rogozin this week. But he said it was "clear" Russia's new envoy would not iron out differences over Kosovo and missile defense.

Despite Rogozin's often unsavory record, NATO is unlikely to hit the panic button.

"NATO officials are flexible diplomats, they deal with people with reputations ranging from very respectable to controversial," says Yury Fyodorov, a political analyst at the London-based Chatham House think tank. "I'm convinced Mr. Rogozin won't spark panic at NATO headquarters. He's not that important."

Besides, political analysts widely agree that Rogozin is not the firebrand he appears to be and will undoubtedly put much of his ultranationalist rhetoric on ice as NATO envoy.

"I don't think anything terrible will happen," says Lukyanov. "After initial surprise, the normal diplomatic process will resume. The strategic political stance on NATO will be decided in the Kremlin, not in Brussels with the envoy."

Rogozin studied journalism at Moscow University and his official biography says he speaks Ukrainian, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Czech.

He is seen as a skillful diplomat experienced in foreign affairs, with stints as chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and Putin's representative in negotiations with the European Union over the status of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave.

He has also served as Russia's envoy to the Strasbourg-based Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a 47-country body focusing on human-rights issues. His term at PACE, however, resulted in a one-year voting ban for Russia in 2000 after he lashed out at a report criticizing the actions of pro-Russian forces in Chechnya.

Rogozin will replace General Konstantin Totsky as NATO envoy, and is expected to take up the post by the end of January.



U.S. Senator Grassley Backs Countries' 'Freedom To Develop'

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley at RFE/RL

PRAGUE -- Senator Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa) has been described as one of the most influential members of the U.S. Senate. First elected to the chamber in 1980, he sits on the Finance, Agriculture, Judiciary, and Budget committees as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation.


Although his primary focus is on U.S. domestic issues, Grassley served on the Senate's delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 2005-06. As a member of the delegation, he worked with European lawmakers on international security issues such as terrorism, nuclear arsenals, and global health threats. He spoke to correspondent Jeremy Bransten during a visit to RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters.


RFE/RL: Senator Grassley, you and your colleagues are on a regional tour that includes Turkey, Spain, and Morocco, in addition to the Czech Republic. Can you tell us about your trip and its objectives?


Senator Charles Grassley: I'd say the objective is probably three or four things. One would be to review, in some countries, our defense relationships, in other countries trade relationships, agricultural issues and just generally to have a dialogue with countries that for the most part are very close to the United States, and to do it in a way that has members of Congress -- being representatives of the people -- interacting with parliamentarians, who are representatives of the people, as opposed to having the chief executives of the two countries meeting, where there's maybe not as much of a grassroots relationship.


RFE/RL: You touched on the issue of democracy and legislators serving as representatives of the people. I’d like to ask about the United States and democracy promotion in general, because what we are seeing in many of the countries that we broadcast to -- in Russia for example -- is an attempt by leaders like President Vladimir Putin to say democracy means instability. And stability should be more prized. That message seems to resonate with many Russians, who are seeing a measure of economic prosperity and fear a return to the tumultuous '90s. What would you tell Russians who wonder whether Putin isn’t right -- whether democracy is a luxury they can’t afford?


Grassley: This may sound awfully theoretical but these are things that I say because they're things I believe. First of all, I think people -- wherever they live -- are basically born to be free and to use the ingenuity and the freedom they have to develop. And collectively, that develops a whole nation. I think it's as simple as people deciding: do they want to govern or help govern? Do they want to rule or help rule? And in representative and democracy-type governments, people have a chance to rule and help rule through the process of voting, through the process of influencing their government. I think this is all very important.


But also if you look at the economic well-being of people and if you want to enhance your standard of living, it seems to me that in areas where you have political freedom, you tend to have a greater amount of economic freedom. And so if you want to enhance your stature economically, to improve your livelihood, the extent to which you have political freedoms, and the marketplace can work and people’s ingenuity is rewarded, then it’s better. And that’s what people should want.


The economy of Russia is a lot better now than it was 10 years ago, mostly because the price of oil is up. Suppose the bottom were to drop out of the price of oil; people in Russia might return to the chaotic situation that they had, or at least to a lower standard of living. But even now, compared to a lot of economies, the Russian standard of living -- it’s high compared to what it was in the '90s or even during the Soviet era -- is surely not high compared to Portugal, as an example. And I pick Portugal out, because one time Putin was quoted as saying that it would be 10 years before the economy of Russia rose to the level of the little country of Portugal, as an example.


So I would plead with the people in Russia that they should desire more political freedom, that they should not choose short-term economic well-being and stability over the long-term good that political freedom will bring to enhance the economy.


Partner Or Foe?


RFE/RL: There’s been a chill in relations between Washington and Moscow lately -- partly because of what’s seen as President Putin’s backsliding on democracy. What kind of relations should the United States have with Russia? Do you see Moscow as a partner or foe?


Grassley: I don't see them as a foe today because I don't think they're strong enough to be a foe. And maybe during the time we considered them a foe, during the Soviet era -- particularly during the latter part of that era -- they were probably not as strong as we thought they were. And that's why when the pope and [Ronald] Reagan decided that they were going to take on the cause of democracy in Eastern Europe, as well as Russia, it may have brought down the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, and the Soviet system faster that we thought they would.


But whatever it is, that relationship should be continued. But I don't think we should mislead Putin and other Russians that we're going to be satisfied with the re-Sovietization of the country. Because I think that a police state, in itself, is bad if you're fighting for civil rights, if you're fighting for liberty. And lastly, I think that we need to make clear that we're not going to be fooled by Putin as we were maybe when [U.S. President George W.] Bush first visited him. If I were to look in Putin’s eyes today, I would see the KGB and I would see the Soviet system evolving again.


RFE/RL:  It seems everyone in the United States agrees on the importance of “soft power” in democracy promotion, to complement America’s military might. The war on terror, many believe, won’t be won on the battlefield alone -- hearts and minds have to be conquered too. But some people point out that when you look at the numbers, the dollars aren’t there to back the intentions. Almost all the money still gets spent on the military and when it comes to democracy promotion, be it in the form of foreign broadcasting, or opening U.S. cultural centers, or offering scholarships to foreign students, or boosting foreign language studies for Americans -- the funds are very low. Do you agree?


Grassley: If you look at the fact that we're spending so much on the military now and appropriations like Radio Free Europe have been flat for the last 10 years -- basically flat -- you're absolutely right. If we had not had the war on terror, if we had not had Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't know whether the disparity would be so bad. My next sentence is not to disagree with you, but to state a principle, which I very much believe in. When it comes to whether you have too much defense spending or not enough, everybody thinks in terms of defense spending being for war and the liking of war. I start out with the premise that our military budget is to defend our country and if you're strong to defend your country, you're going to have more peace. And the more peace you have, the more you're going to be able to spend on non-defense things, as a matter of resources.


That doesn't justify any [particular] level of defense expenditure. I'm not trying to say that. I'm just trying to say that you have to think about the No. 1 responsibility of the Federal government, which is peace.


Now, regarding things [other than defense] we spend on -- Radio Free Europe etc....are very much a part of it. When I look at the debate on Iran, for instance, are we spending enough there? Are we encouraging the young people enough to revolt, as an example? Because there’s a real philosophy that young people are very fed up, that they’re ready for something new and we aren’t doing enough to promote that through the soft approach. I’m not in the middle of that political debate in Washington, but quite frankly, I don’t think we’re doing enough. If we could spend another $100 million on a soft approach in Iran, it would probably take care of a lot of stuff we’re going to have to spend in the future militarily.




U.S. Senator Craig Says Democracy Is Universal Value

U.S. Senator Larry Craig at RFE/RL

PRAGUE -- A prominent U.S. policymaker said today during a visit to RFE/RL in Prague that Western-style democracy is suitable for all cultures, as it has its roots in the universal right to freedom. Senator Larry Craig (Republican, Idaho) also warned about the danger of “petro-nationalism” -- political pressure applied by oil- or gas-rich countries on those dependent on energy imports.


Craig is is a member of the Appropriations Committee, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and is the ranking member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. He spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc.


RFE/RL: Senator Craig, some think that democracy is a Western idea which does not fit comfortably with other cultures. Do you agree with those who say democracy is a universal value, or with those who opine that it is only a western way of governance that cannot be applied everywhere?


Senator Larry Craig: I think human freedom is universal. Everyone wants to be free. For themselves, for their families, they want the future for their children to be one optimum opportunity. I think democracy and freedom and representative forms of government that allow free expressions are one and the same. I think any time a person's spirit is controlled by a government or by a policy that denies the right of free expression, the right to choose, to move around to pursue a job, an opportunity, a religion, is in itself limiting the human spirit. I think democracies have proven to be one of the greatest ways of promoting the freedom of the human spirit.


The Right To Free Expression


RFE/RL: Which is, in your opinion, the best means to successfully promote democracy in those parts of the world living under various forms of religious or ideological tyranny?


Craig: Freedom of expression. The right of the person to know and certainly to express their own points of view. Most totalitarian forms of government control. They put people in the situations and deny them the right to all free expression. Clearly one of the hallmarks of the freedom the citizens of the United States enjoy, for example, under a democratic form of government -- the first amendment to our Constitution -- is that right of free expression. A free press, a free radio, that has all the underpinnings of humans' ability to express themselves freely.


RFE/RL: What role do you see for soft diplomacy in advancing both America’s interests and its ideal of democracy? How would you envisage using public diplomacy to achieve the perfect balance between pragmatism and democratic ideals?


Craig: That's a very, very tough question. But again, soft diplomacy is that which promotes freedom of expression and the opportunity of one having certain rights to choose. I don't deny the need to be pragmatic and realistic about the environment in which one lives, but to suggest that you deny the right of free expression because it does not fit for the moment probably means you continue to extend a totalitarian regime -- authoritarian regimes that deny those basic principles that I think are given to us by the character of human spirit.


RFE/RL: So basically what you’re saying is that the showdown with authoritarian regimes shouldn’t be postponed indefinitely only because of pragmatic, momentary interests?


Craig: When you don't force a showdown you simply extend human misery, if that's part of the product of that kind of totalitarian regime.


Responding To Russia


RFE/RL: There is growing concern in the West about Russia’s backtracking on its path to democracy over the past several years under President Vladimir Putin. What do you think America could and should do in order to support democratic progress in Russia?


Craig: This interview is taking place in Central Europe, where the Russian presence exists in part because of their ability through their policies on energy to extend itself. It appears there is a good deal of re-entrenchment on the part of Russia as it relates to Putin and his policies, and the support of a greater level of authoritarian control over a free market, and all of that. And what do we do about it? First of all, we ought to be clearly aware of it, and then I think that as we promote a variety of policies through the EU in Western Europe, or NATO, for that matter, as it relates to military policy, we've got to recognize what Russia is doing and express it openly.


Part of the intimidation that occurs -- whether it was in Georgia or whether it is in other places -- Putin, I think, is less likely to succeed if he is constantly and openly talked about. So that the rest of the world and all the neighbors know. So that when one country is trying to deal with Russia as it relates to energy policy, its knowing of the circumstances it is dealing with would help them in their overall negotiations. Putin can't hide if what he does is openly exposed.


RFE/RL: Because of rising oil and gas prices and their dependence on Russian energy, America’s western allies appear to have less and less leverage on Moscow when it comes to influencing democratic development. Is the United States worried about the impact of energy needs on its European allies’ foreign policy toward Russia?


Craig: I think we're growing increasingly concerned about what I and others call petro-nationalism. If you have oil today you have power. Especially power over those nations you supply and the dependency those nations have, because oil or gas is energy and is directly tied to our economies today.


I just came from Turkey, where Iran has stopped the flow of gas coming into Turkey because, they argue, the cold winter that's going on in Iran is having substantial impact on Turkey. Reliable supplies, predictable supplies are key to economic growth and stability. And if you are the supplier and you know that and you can manipulate it and you're willing to manipulate it, then you can have substantial control over foreign policy.


We Americans are growing increasingly aware of that because it is more openly being talked about. The president of Turkey was in the United States visiting with our president most recently talking about additional pipelines coming out of the Caspian area and all of that, which would give greater flexibility to European users against a Russian-dominated supply.


RFE/RL: The United States is also dependent on oil imports, mainly from the Middle East, and has been increasingly competing for energy resources with the booming economies of rising Asian giants, such as India and China. Have we reached the critical point where Western democracies need to radically redefine their strategy toward energy independence in order to ensure both continued economic progress and international political leverage?


Craig: Western democracies, the United States in particular, are awakening to the reality that they are growing increasingly dependent on unstable sources of energy. We are now, as a country, importing over 60 percent of our hydrocarbons, and many of those are coming from unstable areas of the world or from sources that use them as a form and a tool of foreign policy.


I've spent a good deal of time in energy and I am constantly speaking more than ever before about the ability of our country to become increasingly energy-independent and how we get there. The National Energy Policy Act of 2005 is a good example and a step in that direction. Radical reform of our policies relates to the ability to build and bring online nuclear reactors. We've rapidly advanced alternative energy sources -- ethanol, for instance.


I myself am preparing a series of speeches which I will give on the floor of the Senate in the coming months that will be laying out a plan for energy independence in our country by the year 2030. It will take us at least that long to gain the kind of energy independence that allows us greater flexibility in certain areas of foreign policy. And our efforts often bring the technology that assists other countries in becoming more independent.




Drug Users Face Lonely, Uncertain Road To Recovery

By Claire Bigg

Trying to kick the habit at a rehab facility in Yekaterinburg

Eduard is a survivor.


At 32, this young man from Russia's Tatarstan Republic has almost a decade of heroin abuse behind him. After years of dependence and a series of failed attempts to quit drugs, Eduard signed up for detoxification at a state-run clinic in 1998.


He relapsed just months later.


"The treatment there wasn't good," he says. "They locked me within four walls, with the sole task of quitting drugs. No one talked to me about how to lead a drug-free life afterward. The attitude to me was like in a shop: I pay, they deliver."


Despite the setback, Eduard was still determined to give up heroin. He eventually turned to Roza Vetrov (Wind Rose), a nongovernmental organization founded in 2002 in the republican capital, Kazan, that offers free psychological and social rehabilitation to drug abusers.


"The most extraordinary thing in my life then happened," he says. "I saw that it was possible to put the information I had been given at the Roza Vetrov rehabilitation center into practice, that this would help me stay away from drugs. I saw the light."


Eduard has been off heroin for nearly a year. He now works at Roza Vetrov, helping others to combat their own drug addictions.


Success stories like Eduard's are few and far between in Russia, where the wave of heroin that swept the country following the Soviet collapse has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed countless others.


Lack Of Official Resolve


Russia today ranks as a leading consumer of heroin, which is easily smuggled from Afghanistan through the porous borders of Central Asia. According to official figures, some 10,000 Russians die every year from drug overdoses and another 70,000 from drug-related health conditions.


Despite such catastrophic figures in a country struggling with a demographic crisis, Russia's drug victims have largely been overlooked by a presidential administration keen on touting its social achievements.


The state remains the chief provider of dependence treatment in Russia, although private clinics and support groups like Roza Vetrov have mushroomed in recent years. As few as 10 percent of drug abusers, however, make it to so-called "narcology dispensaries" -- state inpatient facilities for alcohol and drug detoxification -- and fewer still succeed in staying off narcotics.


The reason for this, according to Human Rights Watch, is the poor treatment offered at these clinics -- so poor, in fact, that the international watchdog says it constitutes a violation of the right to health.


"Because of the lack of effective drug-dependence treatment, there are a lot of drug users in Russia who are at risk of becoming HIV-infected, at risk of getting hepatitis C, at risk of overdose," says Diederik Lohman, who co-authored a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on drug dependence in Russia. "If Russia were to improve its drug-treatment system, many of these people would be able to lead productive lives."


One of the first steps would be to expand the network of state rehabilitation centers, which are available only in one-third of Russia's regions. Detoxification treatment at such facilities consists of removing drugs from the bloodstream, but offers no advice on how to rebuild a drug-free life after leaving the clinic.


Beating The Odds


HRW says more than 90 percent of addicts, like Eduard, relapse within a year of undergoing detoxification.


"In many regions in Russia there is no state rehabilitation," says Lohman. "People either have to pay for rehabilitation services in private facilities, which is often too expensive, or turn to rehabilitation centers that are run in many regions by religious organizations. So a very large percentage of those who go through detoxification never actually get into a rehabilitation program. Many of those people then very quickly go back to using drugs."


Another key obstacle to combating drug dependence in Russia is the practice of listing patients undergoing detoxification at state facilities on a national registry that restricts some of their rights, such as obtaining a driver's license or holding certain jobs. Human Rights Watch says clinics also regularly leak their lists of drug patients to law-enforcement agencies.


Former drug addicts can be removed from the registry after a five-year period of abstinence -- a single relapse resets the complete procedure.


The registry not only acts as a strong deterrent to those seeking to give up drugs, it also encourages discrimination and bribe taking. In most regions, drug users can avoid the registry by footing hospital bills themselves, and some clinics have been reported to use the registry to pressure drug users into coughing up the money.


Eduard, like many others, opted for the self-pay treatment. "I paid 18,000 rubles [$730] in order not to figure on the registry," he confesses. "What most scared me was the prospect of being on the registry, of not being able to find a job. People don't trust former drug addicts, even those who haven't been taking drugs for a long time. That was the most frightening thing for me."


Old Habits


For those ending up on the registry, who number around 340,000, the incentive to clear one's name rarely translates into successful rehabilitation. Nikolai Ivanets, Russia's chief narcologist, admits that most people are taken off the registry not because they recover but because they die.


The registry is a holdover from the Soviet Union, whose health system was more concerned with placing drug addicts under surveillance than helping them kick their habit.


On the whole, Moscow's hard line against those who fall victim to hard drugs has not changed much over the past two decades, and they continue to be treated as criminals rather than victims.


"Today's drug-related health care is a product of the Soviet era. It hasn't changed much, it remains repressive," says Oleg Zykov, the director of Russia's No To Alcoholism And Drug Abuse foundation. "In Soviet times, drug-treatment care was part of the repressive system and focused chiefly on limiting people's rights. The federal drug-dependence services, represented by the National Narcology Research Center, is a completely obsolete structure that has failed to find its place in today's Russia."


With adequate support, however, breaking the vicious circle of drugs is not beyond reach for Russia's estimated 4 million to 6 million drug addicts. The lack of a national strategy to combat drug dependence makes local initiatives such as Kazan's Roza Vetrov all the more vital -- not only to save lives, but also to show that addicts, even hardened ones like Eduard, are not a lost cause.




Court Charges Beslan Victims' Group With 'Extremism'

By Claire Bigg

A memorial to the victims of Beslan

The winter holidays are a difficult time for the many families that lost relatives in the hostage drama that struck the small North Ossetian town of Beslan in September 2004.

For the Voice of Beslan, a victims' group led by women who lost children in the siege, this year's holidays brought further distress: a court summons from neighboring Ingushetia, where local prosecutors had filed charges accusing the organization of "extremist" activities.
 
"We received a telegram around the New Year inviting us to a Nazran court," says Ella Kesayeva, one of the group's leaders. "We think this trial was specially commissioned by someone. A lot has been happening lately around Voice of Beslan. What's happening now is one more attempt to pressure a civil group that is carrying out its own investigation."
 
More than three years after the siege, many questions remain unanswered. For Voice of Beslan and other groups, the key detail is who sparked the violence that brought the three-day siege to its deadly conclusion -- the hostage takers, most from the North Caucasus, demanding a military withdrawal from Chechnya, or the federal forces brought in to negotiate an end to the crisis.
 
After a private investigation, Voice of Beslan says it believes it was federal security forces outside the school, using flamethrowers and tanks against the school, that caused the blast that killed many of the 1,000 hostages and triggered a bloody battle with the militants.
 
Two reports have backed these claims -- one penned by the North Ossetian parliament's investigative commission, the other by Russian politician and explosives expert Yury Savelyev.
 
The State Duma has yet to release its own final official report on the events. But the chief parliamentary investigator, Aleksandr Torshin, has suggested that militants were responsible for the explosion.
 
No 'Official' Account
 
The large number of parallel investigations conducted into the Beslan siege illustrates the extreme controversy and high political stakes surrounding what remains the most horrifying event in recent Russian history.
 
Voice of Beslan says its campaign to bring senior officials to trial for botching the Beslan rescue operation has angered many. The group's trial -- currently due to begin on January 15 -- is not the first time Voice of Beslan has encountered trouble with the authorities.
 
A North Ossetian court ordered the organization to close down in December, claiming that Kesayeva was not its leader and that a former member who claimed to be the leader of the group should replace her. That ruling was subsequently annulled by the Russian Supreme Court.
 
This time, prosecutors' charges are tied to an open letter accusing President Vladimir Putin of covering up the truth about the carnage to protect top officials.
 
"We are guilty of electing a president who solves problems with the help of tanks, flamethrowers, and gas," Voice of Beslan said in the text, posted in 2005 on its website. "But it's not our fault that the global political elite supports our president, who has become a backer of criminals."
 
The charges fall under Russia's 2007 amended law on extremism, which broadens the definition of extremist activities to include "slander of public officials" and "humiliating national pride." The legislation can be applied retroactively and has been used to investigate journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures.
 
Regional Animosity
 
Why authorities might seek to shut down Voice of Beslan is obvious. Russian officials have shown little compunction about using the extremism legislation to crack down on their critics. What is less clear, however, is why the charges come from Ingushetia, rather than Moscow -- and more than two years after the text's publication.
 
Some see the case as a product of the ongoing tensions between North Ossetia's Christian population and the mainly Muslim Ingush following an interethnic conflict in 1992 that killed about 200 people and displaced tens of thousands.
 
But Marina Litvinovich, who runs Truth of Beslan, an information website dedicated to the case, rejects this scenario. "I closely follow the activities of the Voice of Beslan committee," she says. "Its representatives never allowed themselves any comments against the Ingush people and never raised the question of the involvement of Ingush in the hostage taking."
 
Whatever the motive behind the extremism charges against Voice of Beslan, stoking regional tensions in the North Caucasus will not work to the Kremlin's benefit.
 
"The issue here is not only about the scandal," says Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. "This [trial] will inevitably be viewed as an interethnic act, which could have uncontrolled consequences. And that's something the Kremlin definitely doesn't want. Of course the Kremlin believes that Voice of Beslan must be shut down, but they also believe that it's the bureaucracy in Ossetia, rather than another region, that should muzzle this Ossetian group."
 
Kesayeva says Voice has Beslan has urged Putin to call off the trial. Russian human rights campaigners have already thrown their weight behind the organization, describing the extremism charges as an attempt to silence the group.
 
Veteran Russian rights campaigners Lyudmilla Alekseyeva condemned authorities for unleashing their "governmental and judicial might" against women whose sole offense is to search for answers to why their children were killed.
 
(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)


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