Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia Report: October 10, 2007

RFE/RL Marks Anniversary Of Politkovskaya Murder

By Brian Whitmore and Claire Bigg

Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta," spoke by video link from Moscow

PRAGUE, October 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Friends and colleagues of slain Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya gathered at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters today to honor her memory through personal remembrances and discussions of the struggle for press freedom in Russia.

In addition to today's conference in Prague, ceremonies and vigils marking Politkovskaya's assassination also are scheduled to be held in Moscow, New York, Washington, Stockholm, Hamburg, Paris, and London.

Speaking via video link from Moscow, Dmitry Muratov, Politkovskaya's editor in chief at her newspaper, "Novaya gazeta," recited the telephone number that so many people had dialed to convey the truth about Russia's war in Chechnya and other issues that received little or no coverage in the country's mainstream press.

"798-1034. This telephone number stopped answering on October 7 last year," Muratov said in an emotional speech. "Hundreds of people called this number. On this number, she heard numerous curses and threats. She heard many expressions of gratitude. On this number, people called her to set up meetings during which she was given extremely important information on corruption in the Russian Federation."

Muratov said "Novaya gazeta" will reactivate Politkovskaya's old mobile telephone on October 8 in hopes of reviving the stream of calls ended by an assassin's bullets one year ago. Once again, Muratov said, Russians will be able to call with their pain, grief, gratitude, and information about official malfeasance -- and get a sympathetic ear from Politkovskaya's former colleagues.

Murdered In Her Apartment Building

Politkovskaya was shot dead on October 7, 2006, as she stepped into the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. She was hit with three bullets in the chest and one in the head. She was 48. No one has yet been convicted in her murder. Muratov accused Russia's security services of participating in Politkovskaya's assassination and sabotaging the current criminal investigation.

RFE/RL has published a special webpage focusing on the conference, including video from the discussions and a multimedia presentation on Politkovskaya and her legacy.

"She was a person who did not place any luminary or authority above justice. She was absolutely undiscriminating in her choice of enemies," Muratov said, "Now let them be afraid. They, the corrupt officers of Russia's security services, are seeking to ruin the investigation that is being carried out by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office and 'Novaya gazeta.' I can tell you that special services officers and Interior Ministry officials aided, participated in, and organized Anna's murder."

After a year of apparent inaction, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika announced in August that the murder was carried out by a Moscow-based gang led by an ethnic Chechen. He said 10 people had been arrested, including a member of the Federal Security Service and several former and active police officers. Within days, however, two of the suspects were released. Russia media reports cast doubt on the involvement of two other detainees.

Yelena Rykovtseva, who hosts a daily news program on RFE/RL's Russian Service, was the last journalist to interview Politkovskaya.

"I remember this moment one year ago when I was told that Anna had been murdered," Rykovtseva said. "I was horrified. Not only because the person I have known for 10 years was dead, but especially because I felt that I could be indirectly responsible for that. Just two days before the tragedy Anna was in my broadcast, saying very critical things about [current Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov. This could have been the last straw that was followed by revenge."

Death Met With Indifference In Russia

On the day she was killed, Politkovskaya was due to file an article exposing cases of torture by members of the "Kadyrovtsy," Kadyrov's personal militia, which is notorious for its brutal practices. Rykovtseva added that the outpouring of grief that her death sparked across the globe contrasted sharply with the indifference her death met in her homeland. Most Russians, she says, still don't understand what they have lost.

"People in Russia value freedom of speech much less than people in other countries," Rykovtseva said. "That's the reason why Anna's job was not that appreciated in Russia. That's why you don't hear people protesting against the shameful censorship on Russian television channels. Russian society doesn't seem to have even understood what they lost with Anna. They have lost their only chance to learn the truth about Chechnya."

Kevin Klose, a former RFE/RL president and the current head of National Public Radio in the United States, says Politkovskaya has become, through her slaying, the face of the Chechen conflict for Westerners who find the brutal conflict perplexing.

"I think the entire sequence of the Chechnya conflict is very confusing in the West," Klose said. "But when you have a single moment, like the killing of a single individual who has borne witness to that, people see it as a kind of martyrdom issue. It starts to attract their attention on a very personal and specific level."

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek called for intensified international pressure on the Russian government to uphold the rule of law and freedom of expression. "It is important for Russian authorities to investigate her murder to the fullest extent,” adding that “the outcome of the investigation of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya will attest to the current situation in Russia.”

Growing Repression

Many observers have called Politkovskaya's death a turning point in Putin's Russia, heralding a new era of repression and fear. But Edward Lucas, deputy editor of the international section of the British weekly magazine "The Economist," says Politkovskaya's killing was part of a larger pattern of growing repression that started almost immediately after the Soviet collapse and picked up pace under Putin.

"Anna's murder was a symptom of a process that probably started, in a way, back in 1991 when they failed to liquidate the KGB," said Lucas, who covered Putin's rise and early years in the Kremlin as "The Economist's" Moscow bureau chief. "It accelerated more when Putin took over and when he consolidated power, and more after Beslan [hostage tragedy]. It's, I would say, still accelerating."

Many participants agreed that Politkovskaya's work had helped expose that process of mounting repression in modern-day Russia. Few, however, were optimistic that either her work or her untimely death would be able to reverse Russia's current course -- or that there is anyone left in the country who is able to rise to the challenge of following in her footsteps.

Grozny Activist Receives Inaugural Politkovskaya Award

Natalya Estemirova

October 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As a journalist and activist in Chechnya, Natalya Estemirova often worked with Russian investigative correspondent Anna Politkovskaya.

Today, Estemirova will have the bittersweet honor of being presented with an award named after her colleague, who was slain in Moscow one year ago, on October 7, 2006. The award and a cash prize is to be presented every year by the nongovernmental organization RAW in WAR (Reach All Women In War) to a female human-rights defender whose work in a conflict embodies that of Politkovskaya's in Chechnya.

Estemirova works for the Russian human-rights watchdog Memorial in Chechnya. She is a native of Grozny, the capital of the war-torn Chechen Republic in which Politkovskaya tirelessly worked to highlight human-rights abuses. Estemirova told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service by telephone today that while the problems in Chechnya might not always be in the public eye, that does not mean they have gone away.

"We have a lot of problems right now, most of all with people who have found themselves in very difficult situations," Estemirova says. "In Chechnya, there is a big problem with fabricated criminal cases and many young Chechen men are in prison in Russia under difficult conditions. Can you imagine, since 2000 the authorities have been stirring things up so anybody with power thinks they can just beat Chechens. Now there is a situation where many of them are imprisoned for nothing, for crimes that were committed by others, crimes that they had no relation to. Now these cases need to be reexamined. This is work that needs to be done by defense attorneys, and this work needs to be paid for. This is what I want to spend this prize on."

One Outstanding Goal

Estemirova, who will be presented with her award by Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire during a ceremony today in London, says she has one outstanding goal -- to solve at least one of the numerous missing-persons cases in Chechnya.

"As far as human rights go, it is worse because, first of all, nothing has been done to investigate the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya since 2000. And they have still done nothing to investigate these." -- Natalya Estemirova

"We have cases where the relatives themselves have conducted investigations about where their son, or brother, or husband is. Who is for this? They have a lot of information, even names, but for some reason the prosecutor doesn't do anything about it," Estemirova says. "These are investigations that only a professional, like an attorney, can carry out and make prosecutors answer according to the law. It would be good to get at least one case heard in court, in Chechnya, not in Russia."

She says that nothing is done in Russia to address the many cases of human-rights abuses documented by Memorial in Chechnya. Instead, victims and activists have to turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

"Changes have happened, changes for the worse," she says. "As far as human rights go, it is worse because, first of all, nothing has been done to investigate the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya since 2000. And they have still done nothing to investigate these. We are mainly working in Strasbourg. It is there where these Chechen cases are being heard. It is there where the criminals and the victims of these criminals are being named and where it is being demanded that these cases be investigated in Russia."

To Preserve Politkovskaya's Work

RAW in WAR (Reach All Women In War) is a new, international NGO that supports female human-rights defenders and female victims of conflict throughout the world. Mariana Katzarova, a journalist who worked in the war zones of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya, founded RAW in WAR.

"We have just established this prize in the name of Anna Politkovskaya. It will be awarded every year on or around October 7, the day Anna was killed. It will be awarded to women journalists and human-rights activists who are working in different war zones and hot spots in the world," Katzarova tells RFE/RL. "We have decided to establish this prize in order to preserve the work of Anna Politkovskaya, to help and support women who are human-rights activists and journalists who, like Anna, tried to assist the victims in those hot spots despite the fact that they risked their lives doing this."

The recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award is decided by a committee of nearly 100 influential human-rights advocates from throughout the world, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Yelena Bonner, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, and Gloria Steinem.

Making Sense Of The 'Democracy Paradox'

By Robert Coalson
October 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia is in the throes of another election cycle, and it seems certain the country's retreat from democracy will continue and accelerate. The seemingly inevitable result of the upcoming legislative and presidential elections is likely to be a huge pro-Kremlin majority with impeccably antidemocratic credentials facing a tiny, equally antidemocratic Communist opposition. The humiliation of the liberal Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko parties in the December 2003 legislative elections will be institutionalized this year as the parties seem destined barely to register among the also-rans.

The downward spiral of Russia's liberals since 1991 has been truly spectacular. "Liberal democratic forces have steadily lost ground in Russia since the 1993 Duma elections," Nixon Center analyst Nikolas Gvosdev wrote in "The International Journal Of Security Affairs" in late 2006. "The 2005 Moscow city elections should have been a wake-up call. The liberals tried to make this ballot a 'referendum' on democracy, yet, in the richest, freest, most liberal, best-educated city in the country, under conditions far less onerous than those in 1990, when the demokraty were swept into power, these forces received just one-fifth of the vote. It was not a particularly ringing endorsement of the notion that liberals are waiting in the wings."

The fact that this decline is not just a Putin-era phenomenon -- and in view of Russia's millennium-long history of totalitarian rule -- has led Gvosdev and others to speak of a "democracy paradox" in Russia. That is, given a free choice, a majority of Russians would choose some sort of antidemocratic form of government. The term "democracy paradox" was originally applied primarily to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere where religiously conservative majorities, given the chance to express their will, would in many cases choose profoundly antidemocratic regimes. It therefore seems strange to use the term in Russia, which is hardly known for the domination of religious conservatism (although the semi-official Russian Orthodox Church is profoundly conservative and nationalist).

Core Democratic Values

Indeed, although studies have shown that Russians have a weaker adherence to many typical democratic values, the lack of support is not nearly as profound as it is in most of the countries to which the term "democracy paradox" is normally applied. Just this week, the Pew Research Center issued a global opinion study showing not-insubstantial support for what the study calls "core democratic values": Thirty-four percent said they think the ability to criticize the authorities freely is important, while the same percentage agreed that it is important to maintain civilian control over the armed forces; 40 percent oppose media censorship; 41 percent value fair, multiparty elections; 45 percent consider freedom of religion important; and 70 percent think having an impartial legal system is important. While these results are far below what one would find in democratic countries and even below the average among the 35 developing and transitioning countries included in the Pew study, they seem fairly impressive in the current Russian context.

Indeed, although studies have shown that Russians have a weaker adherence to many typical democratic values, the lack of support is not nearly as profound as it is in most of the countries to which the term "democracy paradox" is normally applied.

Last month, a poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found that just 26 percent of Russians think the central government should be further strengthened, although 51 percent favor President Vladimir Putin's aggressive foreign policies. Thirty percent said Russia needs further democratization, free elections, and independent media. Again, in the Russian context, these are solid numbers that belie the fact that the liberal SPS and Yabloko parties are likely to poll just 1 or 2 percent in December's elections.

What is "the Russian context" and how might the collapse of liberal political forces be explained? Speaking at an RFE/RL conference devoted to the first anniversary of the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 4, a deputy editor at "The Economist," Edward Lucas, said the killing "was a symptom of a process that probably started, in a way, back in 1991 when they failed to liquidate the KGB." As the rise of Putin and the siloviki -- officers and agents of the secret services -- has shown, that process has been the dominant (although for years, little noticed) trend of Russia's political development through the post-Soviet period.

One important characteristic of Russia's managed political system -- both at the federal and the local level -- is the nearly universal practice by executive-branch incumbents to use all means at their disposal to prevent the emergence of credible alternatives to their administration. Boris Yeltsin -- increasingly as his term in office wore on -- was guilty of this, and he tolerated it among regional leaders. As a result, post-Soviet Russian elections generally have presented voters with a choice between the status quo and a fragmented collection of unknowns, some of whom were clearly planted "opponents" carrying out precisely scripted political functions for the incumbent.

Between Stability And Chaos

In addition, the emerging silovik-dominated system has largely successfully managed to reduce most public political choices to one between stability and chaos. This tactic was wildly successful during Yeltsin's 1996 reelection campaign, and was reapplied in the 2000 transition election. Although it proved less necessary during the reelection year in 2004, there are signs that fear mongering is making a comeback in the current cycle. Russian media have produced a steady stream of materials accusing the West of meddling in the political system to steal Russia's natural resources or even to break the country up, while various themes -- corruption, extremism, foreign-based bugbears such as Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin, purportedly impending international crises such as a conflict involving the United States and Iran, etc. -- are often used to argue or imply that a firm hand is needed in the Kremlin.

All this has been accompanied by concerted and partially successful efforts to discredit liberal-democratic ideas. These efforts, of course, were greatly facilitated by the incompetence, arrogance, and avarice of many representatives of the liberal camp, as well as the often-counterproductive role of the West during the 1990s. Unexposed and unreconstructed siloviki in business circles, in the Duma, in the media clearly played a role in undermining liberal initiatives and attributing their failures to democrats and their ideas.

The fact that one-third to two-fifths of Russians still adhere to liberal-democratic values in the face of all the events of the last 15 years is remarkable. And the siloviki also seem to feel their success has been tenuous. In recent years, the government has reacted harshly to even the most hopeless manifestations of opposition. The nascent political efforts of Mikhail Khodorkovsky were quashed; when Berezovsky tried to set up the Liberal Russia party, it was hounded and its charismatic leader, Sergei Yushenkov, was shot dead in Moscow in 2003; when Arkhangelsk Mayor Aleksandr Donskoi announced a quixotic bid for the presidency, he suddenly faced a barrage of attacks and criminal charges.

In short, the "democracy paradox" in Russia -- the collapse of a realistic liberal-democratic alternative and the strong public support for firm central rule -- is a product of a profoundly undemocratic political environment. It is an illusory paradox in the same way that Russia is an illusory democracy, and it is important that observers in Russia and the West resist the Kremlin's predictable effort to cast the coming landslide for the status-quo Unified Russia party and for Putin's handpicked successor as a popular mandate for authoritarianism.

Sarkozy Says France, Russia, Narrow Some Differences

Closer or still far apart? Putin (left) and Sarkozy at the Kremlin

October 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy has held talks with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, saying he and his Russian counterpart found some common ground on the issues of Iran's nuclear program and Kosovo's future.

On his first visit to Russia as president, Sarkozy seemed eager to mend fences with his Russian counterpart, after his statement last week that Russia is "complicating" world affairs threw a chill into their relations.

Speaking today in opening remarks at their Kremlin meeting, a smiling Sarkozy addressed Putin in the familiar "tu" form.

The talks come after what Sarkozy has described as a "frank and fascinating discussion" over dinner with Putin October 9.

The Russian leader the same day also struck a conciliatory tone, saying France had always been one of Russia's priority partners.

Moving Closer?

Both leaders have been at odds over key international issues such as Iran's nuclear program.

Russia has opposed calls from France and other Western countries for fresh UN sanctions over Iran's uranium-enrichment activities, which they suspect is a cover to build a nuclear bomb.

Sarkozy said today their positions had "moved closer."

Putin, however, told a joint news conference following today's meeting that there was no proof Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons:

"We have no evidence that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. We have no objective information to that effect," he said. "Our assumption, therefore, is that Iran does not have such plans. However, we share the desire of our partners that Iran should make all of its [nuclear] programs absolutely transparent."

Sarkozy said he and Putin had also narrowed their differences over the issue of Kosovo, but gave no details.

Russia, a strong ally of Serbia, has strongly rejected UN plans to grant the separatist Serbian province of Kosovo internationally supervised independence.

Energy Also On Agenda

Sarkozy told reporters that French investors were eager to purchase a stake in Gazprom, Russia's state-run gas monopoly that supplies a quarter of Europe's gas.

Stressing that his country's policy is transparency and reciprocity, Sarkozy said France was prepared to give its "Russian friends" access to some of its major assets.

The university presented Sarkozy with a medal commemorating its 175th anniversary (AFP)

Sarkozy is scheduled later today to meet representatives of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which has been active in denouncing abuses by Russian and pro-Russian troops in Chechnya.

Addressing students at Moscow State Technical University earlier today, Sarkozy allowed himself a veiled criticism of the country's human-rights record under Putin's rule, saying the world would be "grateful" if Russia built a democratic society.

Sarkozy, however, told the news conference that his country understood Russia's historical "specificity."

France's Sarkozy Takes Critical Stand On First Trip To Moscow

By Jeffrey Donovan

Nicolas Sarkozy has been clear that France's relations with Russia are on a different footing (file photo)

October 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- If diplomacy is an art of nuance and of understatement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy at times has taken license to break the rules -- particularly when talking about Russia.

Far from offering the warm embrace shown Moscow by his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, the 52-year-old Sarkozy has been nothing short of blunt in expressing his views on Russia -- whether its foreign, energy, or security policies.

Nor has the new French leader minced his words on Vladimir Putin, whom Sarkozy, during his election campaign last spring, said was "covered in blood" due to his war policies in Chechnya.

Regardless of whether Putin recalls that provocative comment when he welcomes Sarkozy to the Kremlin for a two-day visit starting on October 9, there's little doubt the Russian leader has noted the new tone in Paris since Sarkozy moved into the Palace d'Elysee on May 16.

"France speaks openly about things that it doesn't like about recent developments in Russia," says Jacques Rupnik, a French political scientist. "President Sarkozy even used the word, there's a certain 'brutalization' of Russian politics. Well, this is not exactly [the] diplomatic language we were used to. So, yes, that is a change, there is a greater sensitivity to the problems of internal democratic developments in Russia."

Embracing Eastern Europe

For an idea of where Paris now stands vis-a-vis Russia, consider how Sarkozy spent the run-up to his official visit to Moscow.

After visiting Hungary, his father's native land, in September, Sarkozy traveled to Bulgaria on October 4. Standing before reporters in Sofia, Sarkozy, in a comment perhaps never before made by a French president, announced that he is "half-Eastern European."

To many in the region, it was a clear statement of solidarity with the former "captive peoples" of the ex-Soviet bloc. But Sarkozy then accused Russia of "complicating" the world's problems in a thinly veiled reference to Moscow's stance on Kosovo.

The next day, on October 5, Sarkozy welcomed to Paris pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, whose tussles with Russia have become in a way emblematic of the struggle of ex-Soviet republics to emerge from Moscow's shadow.

Perhaps to drive home the point before meeting Putin, Sarkozy is today in talks with the leaders of new EU members Poland and the Czech Republic, two former Soviet satellites well-known for their deep-seated suspicions of Moscow.

Andre Glucksmann, a French philosopher and commentator, says that from the start of his election campaign Sarkozy made it clear he would seek to put freedom and human rights at the center of his foreign policy.

"The difference with Chirac, the previous president, is that Sarkozy prefers the new members of the European Union to Putin" Glucksmann says. "And of course you know that Chirac was a very good friend of Putin, whom he awarded with the highest award of the republic [the Legion of Honor award] about [two weeks] before the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya."

Sending A Clear Message To Moscow

Sarkozy's separate talks in Paris today with Poland's Lech Kaczynski and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek also send a message to Moscow.

Both countries are in the process of negotiating the hosting of elements of a U.S. missile-defense shield that Putin vehemently opposes and calls part of a NATO design to encircle Russia.

French officials have said the talks were not scheduled deliberately ahead of Sarkozy's Moscow trip. But according to French media reports, Kaczynski will be pushing for French support for the missile base, as well as backing for Georgian membership in NATO, into whose military structure Sarkozy also hopes to return France.

Topolanek is expected to discuss European policies with Sarkozy, as both countries are set to drive upcoming EU policy. In July, Paris assumes the six-month rotating EU Presidency, with Prague taking over in January 2009.

Under Chirac, France had been cool to both the U.S. missile-defense plan and NATO offering Tbilisi a Membership Action Plan, a first step toward joining the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

On Georgia, Glucksmann believes Sarkozy has already made clear his change of heart. "Sarkozy has hosted [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili, while the previous president, Chirac, always refused to," he says.

During talks in Moscow last month, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner reportedly did not discuss either missile defense or Georgia's NATO plans. Some observers suggested that meant Paris has higher priorities with Moscow -- such as Iran, energy, and Kosovo, which France wants to see achieve independence.

Of course, French diplomats say the country's deepening relations with Eastern Europe have nothing to do with policy toward Russia. And it remains unclear whether France will accept any of the requests from Poland or the Czech Republic.

But Sarkozy's weeklong embrace of Eastern Europe and consistent criticism of Russia do suggest he's unlikely to swap principles for Russian support on any single issue -- even after the gates of the Kremlin welcome him on October 9.

(Andre Glucksmann and Jacques Rupnik spoke with RFE/RL on the sidelines of the annual Forum 2000 conference in Prague, which brings together politicians, businesspeople, and academics to discuss themes of social concern. This year, the theme is "Freedom and Responsibility.")

Activists Say EU-Russia Rights Dialogue At 'Dead End'

By Ahto Lobjakas

Activist Lev Ponomaryov is harshly critical of the EU's rights dialogue with Russia

BRUSSELS, October 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of leading Russian civil society groups are expressing their frustration with what they say is a complete lack of progress in the EU's human-rights dialogue with Russia.

The 11 civil-society leaders told the European Parliament's human rights committee in Brussels on October 2 that the bloc's efforts to engage Russian authorities in a meaningful rights dialogue have failed.

Speaking for the group, Lev Ponomaryov, chairman of the For Human Rights activist group, said Russian authorities ignore the views of civil society in the country, and take no action after meetings with the EU.

"We believe that the existing consultations with the European Union are not effective," Ponomaryov said. "In a certain sense, now that they are being held for a [sixth] time, they have reached a dead end. What is the main problem? The main problem is that it is a dialogue between the deaf and the blind. We say one thing [to the EU] -- and [Russian authorities] do not attend our talks with our Western interlocutors -- and [EU officials] say another thing at their talks with their Western colleagues where we are not present. After all that, there is no follow-up."

'I Hear Your Frustration'

The comments by the Russian activists came ahead of scheduled talks today -- the sixth of their kind -- between EU and Russian authorities on rights issues. Despite the frequency of the meetings, however, activists like Ponomaryov say the role of the rights groups has been reduced to repeating the same message year after year.

Riina Kionka, the personal representative on human rights issues for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, says she is sympathetic to such complaints.

"Now that [the talks] are being held for a [sixth] time, they have reached a dead end. What is the main problem? The main problem is that it is a dialogue between the deaf and the blind." -- Lev Ponomaryov, For Human Rights

"As far as the fact that the consultations are not effective [is concerned], that you don't see immediate results -- or any results, from your point of view -- that it's a cul-de-sac, that it's a conversation between a blind and a deaf person.... you know, I hear your frustration," she said. "I have to say that on the EU side we are experiencing much of the same frustration, and we have a certain feeling of deja vu when we come to the table each time."

Although Kionka essentially conceded the rights dialogue with Russia is producing no results, she defended the practice. She said the EU is currently involved in a "period of reflection" on the usefulness of rights dialogues with problem countries such as Russia, Uzbekistan, and others. But, she said, the EU view remains that "it is better to talk than not to talk."

Reluctance To Challenge

Kionka also underscored the fact that EU representatives meet with Russian NGO representatives before each rights dialogue with Russia, and this year covered the travel costs to Brussels for the 11 representatives. She also said the EU considers evidence presented by Russian activists an important part of its agenda in its subsequent talks with the Russian authorities, and that EU officials regularly deliver the content of those talks to the NGO representatives.

One of the activists in the NGO delegation, Sasha Kulayeva of the International Federation for Human Rights, sharply criticized the EU's reluctance to openly challenge Russia on its human rights record. She said any useful dialogue was limited to the meeting between the EU and the rights officials.

"It became the real moment when human rights issues are frankly discussed, information is being frankly given, and the European institutions say, or at least pose questions which show their position toward these violations of human rights," she said. "The next day -- today, this year -- the consultations [with Russian officials] happen [behind] completely closed doors, and we have no information about the actual discussion which happens within [the room]."

Typically, after the EU and Russian officials meet, both sides issue press releases summarizing the discussion -- a process Kulayeva says creates the impression of two "totally different" events having taken place.

The Russian releases tend to present the talks as dominated by the situation of Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states and rising Islamophobia. Kulayeva says the EU release, by contrast, lists its legitimate concerns, but in an extremely mild and neutral fashion.

Various Types Of Pressure

Tatyana Lokshina of the Moscow-based Demos Center think tank, who participated in the preliminary briefing on October 2, said Russian authorities may pretend to have little interest in human rights issues being discussed in Brussels -- but take a keen interest in the activities of rights groups at home.

"In the run-up to the elections, the pressure on civil society in the country is increasing tremendously. And when I'm saying pressure, I do not mean pressure on the political opposition in particular, but in fact pressure on all independent forces within Russian society, including nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups," she said. "The types of pressure which are being used are quite varied, and they actually range from different administrative, criminal, [and] legal measures to open threats and even violence."

Lokshina and Ponomaryov particularly criticized the persecution of opposition members by Russian authorities by means of a recent antiextremism law. They also asked the EU to raise the situation in the North Caucasus, in particular in Ingushetia and Daghestan.

Moscow Talks To Focus On Missile Defense

By Andrew Tully

Daniel Fried (file)

WASHINGTON, October 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be in Moscow for two days next week for the so-called “two-plus-two” meetings to discuss several bilateral issues with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said the focus will be on the much-contested U.S. plan to deploy parts of a missile-defense shield in Central Europe.

U.S. President George W. Bush says the shield is meant to protect the United States and its European allies against a potential attack by a rogue nation, such as Iran. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia itself may be the target, and has opposed Washington's plans to place missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic.

Fried said Rice and Gates are perfectly willing to talk about such concerns with their two Russian counterparts October 12-13.

"If the Russians are concerned that somehow 10 unarmed missiles in Poland are a threat, let's discuss it," he told a State Department briefing October 5. "If they're concerned that the initial missile deployment in Poland could be followed by something else, we can discuss ways to address that concern. I mean, we're certainly open to those kinds of discussions."

'Issues In Common'

Fried said Washington and Moscow have interests in several issues around the world, some of which they see differently, some of which they agree on, and some of which their views are mixed.

For example, Fried said the two countries have differences on the status of Kosovo, but take the same stance on the North Korean nuclear program. As for Iran, he said, both countries agree that it shouldn't have nuclear weapons, but they differ on how to prevent it. These are among the many issues that are expected to come up during the talks.

Strategic issues such as these -- and the missile-defense shield -- are important, Fried said, and are the kinds of subjects that actually bring Russia and the United States together.

Fried stressed that no one at the State Department expects that all or even any of the issues at the table will be resolved by the end of the meetings. But he said the session in Moscow would provide a solid basis for advancing mutual understanding.

"I think it's important to frame up the issues and give direction, guidance; instructions to the experts [and] the negotiators, and then we'll proceed," he said.

Several reporters asked about the Bush administration's attitude about democracy in Russia. Fried said the administration -- Rice in particular -- believes that although Russia has a strong presidency, other institutions are too weak. Rice, he said, believes democracy in Russia would be stronger if these institutions were stronger, too.

'No' To Armenian Genocide Bill

Because Fried's area of expertise includes all Eurasia, he was asked about other countries in the region. One question had to do with a bill being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have the United States formally declare that the mass deaths of Armenians in 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turks were genocide.

Fried said the Bush administration opposes the bill, but not because it denies that the deaths occurred, as the legislation says they did. Rather, he says they oppose it because it would hurt U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkish-Armenian relations, and even U.S. forces in Iraq, which rely on passage through Turkey.

Fried said that to oppose the bill isn't to deny the tragedy of 1915.

"We do not deny anything," he said. "But we do not believe that this bill would advance either the cause of historical truth, or Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, or the interests of the United States, and we oppose it."

Fried also was asked about the arrest in Georgia of that country's former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, once an ally of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Okruashvili, who recently accused Saakashvili of ordering the killing of a political opponent, was arrested October 4 on corruption charges.

The State Department is “disturbed” by the arrest, Fried said.

"Any kind of arrest like this raises some serious questions and we have spoken to the Georgians about it," he said.

Kosovo: Is EU The 'Wild Card'?

By Patrick Moore
September 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign ministers of the six-member international Contact Group -- the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, and Russia -- are slated to discuss Kosovo when they meet at the UN General Assembly on September 27. Kosovar and Serbian representatives will hold direct talks in New York the following day. Neither session is likely to produce a breakthrough because Pristina and Belgrade hold fundamentally irreconcilable positions, while the foreigners are divided.

In the run-up to the talks, the main protagonists have been staking out their positions, albeit with differing tactics. Kosovar Albanian political leaders, who represent about 90 percent of Kosovo's population, stress calmly, but firmly, that they expect to declare independence, which is the only solution their voters will accept, on or after December 10.

That is the day when the members of the so-called international troika, which consists of the United States, the European Union, and Russia, will submit their report on Kosovo to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. On September 19 in London, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said of independence that "in the end, we will do it. We will make it happen."

Serbs, Kosovars Far From Agreement

Belgrade's approach has been increasingly to mix its customary themes of legalistic complaints and self-pity with tough talk and threats. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has long argued that independence for Kosovo would harm the cause of democracy in his country by playing into the hands of extremists. He has also repeated his long-standing assertion that independence for Kosovo would automatically destabilize the Balkans, a view that Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has also reiterated in recent days.

In a new twist, Kostunica said on September 15 that Serbia does not want anything to do with NATO if Kosovo becomes independent with the support of the United States and the Atlantic alliance. This threat was presumably intended to put pressure on those Europeans who want to see Serbia integrated into all Euro-Atlantic structures and not just the EU. But some German and other politicians and commentators took Kostunica's words as evidence of his own political immaturity and called for Serbia to be dropped from NATO's Partnership for Peace program as long as he is prime minister.

Meanwhile, Belgrade turned down a Kosovar offer in mid-September of a postindependence bilateral friendship treaty. Serbian officials stressed that they will never accept statehood for the province, even though Belgrade has not controlled it since June 1999. Kosovo's Serbian minority is subordinated in the negotiating process to a Belgrade-sponsored delegation.

For their part, the Kosovar Albanians continue to reject Serbia's long-standing offers of "the widest possible autonomy." Kosovar leaders stress that the province's future must be based on self-determination and majority rule as the final episode in the disintegration of former Yugoslavia and the latest installment of the worldwide decolonization process that followed World War II. They also argue that the Albanians want nothing to do with Serbia following Belgrade's brutal crackdown and ethnic-cleansing campaign of 1998-99, which forced tens of thousands of Kosovars to flee their homes.

...As Russia, U.S. Back Two Sides

Two of the international actors have also taken predictable positions. Russia remains firm in its stance that it will not agree to any solution that is not acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina. Moscow has thereby given Serbia a veto in status talks and ensured that no pro-independence plan will get past its own veto in the UN Security Council. This includes the plan put forward by UN envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari, which calls for carefully supervised independence and which Moscow and Belgrade reject.

Russian officials also repeat the Serbian argument that independence for Kosovo will destabilize the Balkans. The Russians stress that independence would create a "dangerous precedent" for resolving "frozen" and other conflicts in the former Soviet space and elsewhere in the world.

The United States, like Ahtisaari and UN diplomat Kai Eide before him, argues that independence is the best way to bring stability to the region. According to this view, insecurity and a lack of clarity regarding the province's political status led to unrest in March 2004 and could lead to violence again. Those who hold this position add that the status issue must be clarified in order to attract investments necessary to create jobs and get unemployed young men in particular off the streets.

On September 24, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that independence for Kosovo "is the only solution that is potentially stabilizing for the Balkans rather than destabilizing.... If the [Europeans] need a stable Balkans, they're going to have to take tough decisions and do the right thing."

Some U.S. and other western Balkan experts also argue that independence for Kosovo would be a boon for democracy in Serbia because it would force Kostunica and other politicians to turn their attention away from nationalist rhetoric and toward Serbia's real problems, which are poverty, crime, unemployment, corruption, a democracy deficit, and a lack of transparency in public life.

EU's Role Harder To Determine

If Moscow and Washington are taking predictable positions, the internally divided, 27-member EU is another matter. Some members favor independence for Kosovo, while some others do not, either because they fear it could inspire their own ethnic minorities to break away or because of their own special ties to Serbia. Britain, France, and Italy, which belong to the Contact Group, agreed to be represented in the troika by a representative of Germany, which is the fourth member of that body.

He is Wolfgang Ischinger, who is currently ambassador to Britain. He was an important figure at the 1995 Dayton peace conference that brought a formal end to the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and later represented the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Washington during the Iraq-related crisis in bilateral relations that began with Schroeder's reelection campaign in 2002.

Ischinger's position has been less easy to ascertain than those of most of the other protagonists. In August, he suggested that partition of Kosovo might be a possible option as part of a settlement, only to claim later that he had been misquoted. He has repeatedly made it clear that Serbia's and Kosovo's future relations with the EU will depend on the outcome of the current talks. He also echoes the Brussels line that Kosovo "must be primarily a matter for the EU," as Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of that body, recently put it.

But Ischinger has distanced himself from the Ahtisaari plan, which is unusual for a German or EU diplomat in dealing with recommendations from the UN. Instead, he told the British daily "The Independent" of September 18 that "I would leave open independence. I would rather talk about strong supervised status.... The label [independence] is worth nothing. Where are [the Kosovars] going to get their income from? They would continue to rely on foreign aid." He called instead for an unspecified "status solution which will provide for an internationally supervised status for Kosovo." The implication was that the Kosovars must do as Brussels wants because Brussels will control their purse strings.

These remarks set off alarm bells in Kosovo. Many Kosovars suspect that the EU is about to impose some sort of hybrid or quasi-colonial political solution on Kosovo and deny the majority self-determination. Such an approach would also enable Serbia to buy time and nurse hopes of eventually retaking the province -- and settling scores.

Moreover, in recent months, some West European think tanks have reportedly renewed efforts to devise creative formulas for a status that might resemble the Dayton system for Bosnia or the 2003 "Solania" formula for Serbia and Montenegro, which was designed by EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana. Most observers have come to regard the Dayton system as a stop-gap solution that has since become dysfunctional, while the state of Serbia and Montenegro barely lasted three years, despite heavy pressure from Brussels to preserve it.

Why The Kremlin Likes The CIA

By Robert Coalson
October 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Even by the standards of late Putin-era Russian television, the recent "special report" by Rossiya television journalist Arkady Mamontov entitled "" ( in English) raised eyebrows. The half-hour diatribe charged bluntly that the CIA, through Western NGOs, was responsible for "velvet revolutions" in Serbia and Montenegro, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan -- and that now it has set its sights on Russia.

Mamontov has had a colorful career reporting from conflict zones since the 1990s and was the only Russian reporter allowed on the scene of the efforts to save the doomed crew of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine in August 2000. He was also the journalist behind the notorious "spy-rock" report alleging that British agents had attempted to gather intelligence by placing a large stone rigged with recording equipment on a Russian street. His latest report charges that the United States, having launched a war in Iraq that was ostensibly about democratizing the Middle East but was actually about oil, is engaged in an intricate campaign to snatch Russia's natural resources under a covert effort masked by democratic slogans and rhetoric.

Moreover, Mamontov casts a wide net in his claims concerning who is abetting the CIA's plot. Youth groups, opposition politicians, Russian and international NGOs, "pro-Western" mass media, and others are all depicted in slick graphics as embodying a vertical structure stretching from Langley to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to the streets of Nizhny Novgorod and other Russian cities. The report specifically mentions the National Endowment for Democracy, the Eurasia Foundation, Freedom House, the Open Society Institute, RFE/RL, and the U.S. Agency for International Development as players in the plot.

Meanwhile, an unsuspecting Russia is depicted with bucolic images of Siberia, scenic flyovers of Orthodox monasteries, and glittering cascades of diamonds from the mines of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic.

Creating A Climate For Manipulation

But the fact that state-controlled television devoted a plum piece of Sunday evening prime time to this production should not be taken to mean that the Kremlin feels shaken or has lost confidence in its control of the political process. Instead, the authorities are using their iron control over the mass media to create a climate of public opinion and public expectation that will best facilitate their manipulation of the political process over the next six to eight months as Russia elects a new Duma and as the March 2008 presidential succession problem is resolved one way or another.

On a practical level, scare-mongering along the lines of Mamontov's piece creates a climate of receptivity for actions that will almost certainly become necessary on both the local and national levels -- actions such as eliminating candidates and parties from elections, arresting or opening investigations against opposition figures, pressuring or closing down media outlets, cracking down on demonstrations, and other typical machinations of "managed democracy." The scattershot nature of Mamontov's accusations shows that fostering such a climate is a primary goal of the piece.

In fact, Mamontov's piece launches a preemptive justification for police violence against demonstrators by claiming that Western hirelings view being beaten as a badge of courage and therefore provoke police officers, who, after all, are only human and might sometimes exceed their orders.

In addition, media reports such as Mamontov's will likely have a dampening effect on Western criticism of Russian political and civil-society developments. Western governments and bodies like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will likely tone down their already mild comments in the face of stepped-up accusations of interference in Russian domestic politics. And, if they don't, Russian state media will have a ready-made friendly context in which to place their reports of such criticism.

Strategy Of 'Managed Instability'

On a broader level, however, pieces like "" play to a widespread feeling among many Russians that, indeed, the country is surrounded, and even infiltrated, by enemies that seek to destroy it as a country. Mamontov interviews a historian who says the West seeks to prevent Russia from "getting up off its knees" and hints that the United States has sought the dismemberment of Russia for decades.

Similar fears played well during President Vladimir Putin's rise to power in late 1999, when the authorities launched the second war in Chechnya and a series of still-unexplained apartment-building bombings killed scores in Moscow and several provincial cities. Most concerns (both in Russia and abroad) about the prospect of a KGB product taking over the Kremlin were swept aside by the clamor for a strong hand to thwart an existential threat to the country.

In January, political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky wrote that the siloviki -- the products of the state security organs who have come to preeminence under Putin -- might resort to a policy of "managed instability" in a bid to make a third term for Putin more palatable and, even, inevitable.

In short, although the prospect of a velvet revolution in Russia is remote, the Kremlin feels the need to invent the threat of one. Doing so greatly increases its freedom of action and bolsters it mightily against critics at home and abroad.