Russians supportive yet wary of censure
People believe that criticizing the authorities is necessary but could be fraught with danger, because the offenders can be bankrupted through litigation, according to the opposition.
From July 2 to 5, the Levada Center polled 1,601 people about their attitude to criticism of the authorities. As many as 55% of the respondents said the authorities disregard the opinion of those who take part in protest actions, 84.5% said they must respect people's opinions, and 78.3% think criticism would benefit the powers that be.
These are roughly the same results as in 2007.
A total of 55.8% do not think there is any use in criticizing the authorities. But Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said criticism is ineffective only when it is directed against the top leaders and their closest allies.
"Government departments react to each publication in our newspaper," he said. "Lower level officials are possibly afraid of being penalized."
However, authorities try to cushion high-profile cases such as the car accident involving LUKOIL vice-president Anatoly Barkov or the death of Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial detention, Muratov said.
People are divided almost equally into those that think criticizing the authorities could be dangerous (45.6%) and those who disagree (47%). Like in 2007, a relative majority of Russians think criticism of the authorities might be prohibited soon under the pretext of fighting extremists.
In late June, the leaders of the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party complained at a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev that party members who criticize the authorities are being bankrupted through libel lawsuits.
"Our deputy Nina Ostanina was fined 1.5 million rubles ($48,700) after criticizing Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev at a meeting of the State Duma [the parliament's lower house]," Vadim Solovyov, senior lawyer of the Communist Party, said citing a fresh example. "A similar lawsuit for a 1-million ruble fine will be heard on July 13. The party doesn't have that much money."
The Liberal Democratic Party is facing multi-million ruble fines under lawsuits filed by the Moscow city government.
Solovyov said the Communist Party this fall plans to propose a draft law to spread parliamentary immunity to civil lawsuits.
As many as 63% of the respondents said all TV shows are censured, but only 59.3% said this is right.
People mostly associate censorship with stability, morals and ethical values rather than politics, said Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center. By supporting the introduction of censorship, people prefer to keep pornography and extremism out of TV shows.
Black list of Ukrainians denied entry into Russia cancelled
President Dmitry Medvedev has decided that Russia must stop compiling black lists of Ukrainians prohibited from entering the country.
"We believe that abandoning the practice of black lists is in line with the new relationship between Moscow and Kiev," reads the Foreign Ministry's statement announcing the decision.
Such black lists have never been official in Russia or Ukraine, which never published the lists. People prohibited from entering Russia or Ukraine learned about their misfortune only during passport control.
Black lists were extremely popular in Ukraine during Viktor Yushchenko's presidency. Entry was denied to prominent Russian journalists Mikhail Leontyev and Arkady Mamontov, several members of parliament, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Russian political scientists and public figures for various reasons, including statements allegedly threatening Ukraine's territorial integrity and security.
Prominent Ukrainians who were denied entry into Russia include Petro Poroshenko, a businessman, politician and co-sponsor of the Orange Revolution. When Poroshenko was appointed foreign minister, he and his Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov initiated liquidation of the black lists late last year.
There were very few entry problems when Viktor Yanukovych, the current president of Ukraine, was prime minister and Arseniy Yatsenyuk his foreign minister in 2006-2007. The Ukrainian authorities even said they might stop the "closed doors" policy soon, but did not do anything toward that end.
When Yulia Tymoshenko became prime minister and Volodymyr Ohryzko her foreign minister, scandals and incidents on the border happened almost every day.
Ukraine has so far not responded to Russia's initiative. However, black lists have not been used since Yanukovych was inaugurated in February. Everyone whom the Ukrainian authorities did not want to see in their country can cross the border now without fear of being stopped.
Moscow demands abolition of Hague Tribunal
On Thursday, Moscow demanded that the international community abolish the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as soon as possible.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said the Hague Tribunal's decision to acquit Naser Oric, a former Bosnian Muslim military officer during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, showed that it lacked impartiality, and that justice was being substituted by a political decision.
Analysts link Moscow's statement with its desire to establish positive relations with the new Serbian government.
On July 3, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY acquitted Oric, who had commanded the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina forces in the Srebrenica enclave in Eastern Bosnia surrounded by Serb forces.
In 2009, the ICTY only found Oric guilty of not preventing war crimes committed by his subordinates and sentenced him to two years in prison. Oric was released because he had already served that term at a preliminary detention ward.
Nesterenko told journalists on Sunday that Oric was suspected of masterminding the massacre of over 3,000 Serbians who had lived in villages around Srebrenica in 1992-1995. "For unknown reasons, the ICTY has mitigated the unprecedentedly mild sentence and has completely exonerated the defendant," Nesterenko said.
The ICTY's impartiality has been repeatedly found questionable, which causes Russia's discontent. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's current Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, made a similar statement at a June 4 meeting of the UN Security Council, which assessed the ICTY's work.
At that time, the ICTY was criticized for acquitting Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerrilla leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and later the prime minister of Kosovo.
Serbian political and military analyst Gostimir Popovic said Moscow's demarche with regard to the ICTY strove to expose the biased Western foreign policy and that the demand to abolish the tribunal was a friendly gesture with regard to the new Serbian government. He also believes that even pro-EU politicians had a negative opinion of the tribunal's work.
Popovic's conjecture is proved by opinion polls conducted in Serbia earlier in the week. In all, 87% of Serbians, including Bosniak Rasim Ljajic, the current Minister of Labor, Employment, and Social Affairs of Serbia and president of the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, doubt the ICTY's fairness and objectivity.
Russia to borrow from itself
The Finance Ministry has announced its readiness to make all scheduled borrowings at home rather than abroad. The official reasons: the instability of foreign currencies and external markets.
Before the end of this year, the Finance Ministry plans to make all budgeted borrowings on the domestic market, Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin said last Friday. He explained this by the unstable situation on foreign markets. Earlier, Russia had other plans: in order to meet its budget deficit, it planned to borrow $17.8 billion on international markets in 2010. The amount was quoted as the ceiling, and Finance Ministry officials kept saying the actual amount would be smaller. In 2010, Russia tapped the world loan market for the first time since 1998 and placed sovereign Eurobonds totaling $5.5 billion. This left $12 billion to be provided for. Now, it is likely to come from the domestic market.
The financial authorities plead unsteady foreign currencies and the need to cover the budget shortage as the reason for the move. But even today's budget deficit, many independent experts say, is no reason to make urgent borrowings, especially at home. By trying to revise the economy and make incentives for a quick exit from the crisis, the authorities risk worsening the situation, analysts believe. The budget will be met with resources diverted from the real sector of the economy and may slow down economic development.
But some experts are more optimistic. Georgy Dzagurov, general director of Penny Lane Realty, says banks do not want to risk and give loans to the real sector in the current unstable period, as is shown by statistics. The banks are keeping all funds to themselves. The government, by its decision to refocus on domestic markets, will force this mass of money to work somehow and enable the banks to make some profits. Otherwise, Dzagurov says, inflation will eat the money up. But the main gain is reputation. The less money a country borrows internationally, the higher its rating, and the steadier its outlook for foreign businesses and investors.
Russia marches East again
Russia is changing its attitude to Asia. The government has been instructed to draw up a special program for incorporating Russia's Far East into the Asia-Pacific Region (APR). In October 2010, Moscow will join the Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ASEM), and later an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APCS-2012) in Vladivostok will further strengthen Russia's positions in the APR.
On Thursday, the Russky Mir Foundation and the Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation Council (APSCC) discussed Russia's strategy in the region.
In the opinion of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin, the region is a hub of global economic development: it concentrates 60% of worldwide GDP and has proven highly immune to the financial crisis. This year, China's GDP increased by 11% and that of India by 8%. The diplomat said there is a need to intensify confidence-building dialogue between the regional powers.
However, many factors stand in the way of such a dialogue: Moscow's political orientation towards the West, its resources-based economy and non-membership in the World Trade Organization. Moreover, trade in resources on the Asian market is not sufficiently developed. Russia's energy accounts for a small percentage of the APR's trade: oil 1.7%, gas 0.002%, and coal 0.8% - and this is at a time when Russia remains the main supplier of energy to the West.
Russia does not yet fully identify itself as part of the APR and views the region as secondary, believes Vyacheslav Nikonov, Russky Mir head and chairman of the APSCC Russian National Council. Still, the opportunities for cooperation are extensive. In 2009, APR's accumulated investments totaled 11.5%. In energy, several successful projects are under way: Sakhalin 2 and the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline. The region's energy consumption is going up, while European customers, the focus of Russia's efforts, are cutting down on energy, Nikonov said.
Georgy Toloraya, the APSCC coordinator, said that Russia is beginning its fourth march on the East. The first began in the mid-19th century, when Russia faced Britain and France in Asia. The second was during the Russo-Japanese war in the early 20th century. The third took the form of socialist expansion in Soviet days. In Nikonov's view, Moscow's current strategy must be to lean on the West, stabilize the South and march East.
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MOSCOW, July 12 (RIA Novosti)