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Russian Opposition Figure Detained Over Crisis Article

The Russian ruble has hit a record low against the euro.
(RFE/RL) -- Aleksandr Bragin was arrested on December 29 by officers from the Russian Interior Ministry's department for combating terrorism and extremism.

His offense: publishing an article about the effects of the country's sharp economic downturn on Ulyanovsk, a Volga city some 900 kilometers east of Moscow.

Bragin's article was posted on December 29 on the website of the Russian Popular Democratic Union, an opposition party led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, whose regional Ulyanovsk branch is headed by Bragin.

Yelena Dikun, a Kasyanov aide, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that law enforcement agencies are accusing Bragin of tarnishing the region's image.

"Bragin published an article on the party's website about the socioeconomic situation in Ulyanovsk during the crisis," Dikun said.

"The department for combating terrorism and extremism is now demanding that the article be taken down from the website, claiming that Bragin is harming the region's image."

Dikun added that the party had no intention of heeding the police's demands.

"There is no slander in this article. There are only facts about the unemployment rate in the region, about the nonpayment of wages, about the growing prices," she said.

"This information has not been refuted. Of course, nobody is going to take this article down from the party website. We feel deeply indignant that if someone tells the truth, he is immediately detained."

Kremlin Watches Ruble Nervously

Bragin's arrests highlights growing nervousness among officials about the country's deepening economic woes.

The Russian ruble has lost around 20 percent of its value since August amid a plunge in oil prices and the global financial turmoil.

On December 29, it hit an all-time low against the euro and reached its weakest level against the dollar since 2004. The fall was the ninth time the central bank allowed the ruble to devaluate this month.

December saw the first protest rallies linked to the crisis, and some officials have voiced disagreement on the government's anticrisis measures. And as public discontent grows, the Kremlin is showing signs of uneasiness.

At the year's final cabinet meeting in Moscow on December 29, President Dmitry Medvedev called for government unity.

"We can have different points of view on various problems," he said. "But at a time of global challenges it is important to maintain the unity of the government."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also urged team spirit and sought to play down the country's financial troubles.

"Work in difficult conditions shouldn't cause stagnation or distress or pessimism, but it should raise the adrenaline in one's blood," Putin said. "It is a challenge and an opportunity to realize oneself, to prove one's abilities, efficiency, and professional qualities."

Putin also told journalists not to fan public concern about the country's sharp economic downturn.

"Don't ratchet up fears or hysteria, there are no grounds for them," he told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

Sociologists say rising unemployment and a fall in real disposable income have hit the Russian population hard, and have a real potential for social unrest.

According to Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, the number of Russians officially registered as unemployed could reach 2.2 million people next year.

This represents a 69 percent increase from the 1.3 million officially registered as unemployed in November.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

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