Waiting to Be Blessed
Russia’s political powers are flocking to support the Russian Orthodox Church. There has been an unexpected wave of religious participation in the social and political life of the country lately. Defendants in the Pussy Riot case, dubbed “Putin’s religious war” by the Western media, are charged with violating religious rules and blasphemy.
The most recent example of religious fervor is the arranging of a prayer service asking God for rain by the official bodies of Siberia that are currently caught up in wildfires. Last week, Kemerovo Region Governor Aman Tuleyev asked a local bishop to organize a prayer service for the entire Kuzbass area. Mass prayers were held in the Tomsk Region on July 22 by the local department of the Emergency Situations Ministry. The ministry's press service urged people to ask for God’s mercy and rain. The prayers however were in vain. It is reported that after the service, the fires continued to rampage because of the heatwave. Interestingly, journalists of the ministry’s radio claim they were forced to resign following the broadcast of a program critical of one of the Synodal departments of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The opposition is also trying to garner sympathy with the church. Members of the Liberal Democratic parliamentary party proposed a statement “condemning the frequent attempts of certain parties to discredit the Russian Orthodox Church” which undermine “the centuries-old moral foundations in Russia.” The wording of the statement echoes the notice of the charges against Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the alleged organizer of the ‘punk prayer’ in the Christ the Savior Cathedral.
The parliamentary members of the Communist Party went even further. Gennady Zyuganov published an article in the party’s newspaper calling for the protection of national values and shrines. Zyuganov’s oratory about 100 million Christians being persecuted in 70 countries has a strange resemblance both to Soviet propaganda about workers being persecuted in capitalist countries and more recent statements by the Moscow Patriarchy about discrimination of Christians in the ungodly West. The main Leninist in Russia claims that a third of Communist Party voters are believers, while the party itself represents the Orthodox faith in politics and “protects the interests of believers.”
The Communists’ wooing of the Church is understandable. The Communist-inspired movement of Sergei Kurginyan has been cooperating with Russian Orthodox organizations to arrange public protests against Russia joining of the WTO and the government’s liberal policies. At a rally against juvenile justice on May 15, Kurginyan was shouting slogans from the stage alongside priest Vsevolod Chaplin, known for his recent anti-liberal statements.
The Western media see this as an attempt to boost the popularity of the religious campaigners among the conservative majority and neutralize more modern-minded Russians. The Church presents itself as a rampart of conservatism and seems to have an advantage because it enjoys the support of the state. But will this strategy be the right one in the long term?
Russia, United States Blackball Arms Trade Treaty
The UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty has failed to approve the world’s first binding document on trade in conventional arms. Its organizers blame the United States and Russia. Washington demanded that the new treaty must not limit Americans’ right to bear arms, while Moscow was displeased with the ban on selling arms to troubled regimes.
The four-week conference began in New York in early July. Its organizers eventually said the signing would have to be postponed for an indefinite period. Argentine Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, who chaired the conference, said they knew that “this was going to be difficult to achieve” but still hoped for a treaty.
Experts were skeptical from the start; they did not expect a final treaty draft to be negotiated that would suit all 193 countries. At the insistence of the United States, it had to be adopted unanimously or not at all.
It transpired before the conference that Russia wants the treaty to regulate only trade in small arms and light weapons. During the conference, the United States, China, Syria, Iran and Egypt demanded that any possibility of a ban on the sale of munitions be excluded from the treaty.
But the conference ultimately failed because of Russia and the United States. The U.S. delegation said the treaty must not infringe on Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms. In a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a bipartisan group of 51 Senators said they would “oppose the ratification of any Arms Trade Treaty that falls short of” upholding “our country’s constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership.” The powerful U.S. gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, said its members will never surrender the right to bear arms to the UN.
On the last day of the conference, chief U.S. negotiator Thomas Countryman said he needs more time for consultations. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement on Friday that the U.S. supports a second round of negotiations next year. “More time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue,” she said.
Russia and China supported the U.S. stance. Chief Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the security and disarmament department at the Foreign Ministry, said the draft treaty was “frankly weak” and did not “meet the requirements of establishing the highest standards in international arms trade.”
According to Kommersant’s sources, the Russian delegation tried to amend the treaty so that only state agencies would have the right to sign arms supply contracts. But many participants rejected these amendments as unacceptable: private companies own a major part of the arms market in the United States and Western Europe. The newspaper’s source in the UN Secretariat said: “The Russian delegation kept trying to force its own agenda on the participants, while refusing to discuss any form of arms export control and insisting that the treaty should be focused exclusively on fighting the illegal arms trade.”
Tax Service Exposes Multi-Billion Ruble Embezzlement
The Russian Finance Ministry and the Federal Tax Service suspect companies of illegally requesting budget compensation for keeping equipment ready for use in case of war.
They are inspecting companies which participate in the mobilization program and request several hundred billion rubles of VAT compensation, even though they are not connected to mobilization preparations and their special equipment is only used to make a profit.
Mobilization preparations are designed to adjust the armed forces and state infrastructure to a war footing and are conducted by a plan approved by the country’s top authorities. It says that in peacetime, mobilization capacities can either be used partially or in full or put on standby but maintenance of the equipment must never stop. Funds are allocated for this purpose from the federal budget.
In 2012, the tax authorities received revised declarations requesting “mobilization benefits” for projects not connected with mobilization, such as major repairs and assembly of equipment and construction projects implemented in 2007-2010. Annual requests range from between 750 million and 9.3 billion rubles ($23 million to $289 million).
“We have inspected 65 companies in the steel sector and established that many of them have no connection to mobilization preparations and use their capacities to satisfy civil requirements and make a profit,” a tax inspector told Izvestia.
The source said they are now inspecting energy companies. For example, the Tyumenenergo energy sales company was denied its request for over 2.4 billion rubles ($74.5 million). It even filed lawsuits but failed to provide a single document proving its participation in the mobilization program.
“The company spent 2.4 billion rubles on modernizing its substations, distribution systems, overhead transmission lines and technical facilities,” the source said, adding that such spending is written off as equipment depreciation.
This is a minor victory for the tax agencies. According to information available to Izvestia, Russia annually loses between 1 billion and 1.5 billion rubles of profit tax from each of the 2,000 companies participating in the mobilization program.
“Even mobile operators are on the list. They are to text their subscribers about general mobilization in case of war,” a source at the Federal Tax Service said.
He said that mobile operators do not have special equipment for this, yet they are on the mobilization list and therefore request benefits.
The tax agencies also plan to inspect the defense and healthcare industries.
The Finance Ministry's press service said that organizations that have mobilization capacities must hold special mobilization work.
“In some cases, they invest in work that cannot be compensated from the budget, such as the maintenance of facilities that are not being used to their full capacity but are necessary for fulfilling the mobilization plan,” the ministry said.
The Federal Tax Service informs the taxpayer about mistakes in its declaration or incorrect profit tax figures, according to the ministry. The taxpayer must provide explanations or rewrite the declaration, after which the FTS conducts an additional inspection at the company.
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