United Russia: A Creature of U.S. State Department?
U.S. State Department says it participated in USAID programs
According to the U.S. State Department, United Russia, which has been fighting against foreign influence in Russia, actually participated in programs that were financed through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID, the largest foreign sponsor of Russian NGOs, has been ordered to stop operations in Russia by October 1 because its staff did not always act in accordance with the agency’s proclaimed goal of promoting bilateral cultural cooperation. In particular, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that USAID used grants to influence political processes in Russia. Human rights organizations say that the closure of USAID is an alarming signal and that many non-profit organizations will suffer as a result.
“I was asked the question yesterday as to whether President Putin’s party, United Russia, has ever availed itself of the programming that the United States offers through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. Our understanding is that United Russia has participated in some of IRI and NDI’s programs over the years. And as I said to you, IRI and NDI offer these programs to any party in Russia that wants to take advantage of it,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told journalists on Thursday.
The U.S. government established the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute in 1983 to promote and support democracy across the world, primarily in developing countries. These institutes implement political programs, spread democracy and provide grants.
Ms Nuland added that “the programming that NDI and IRI had been offering in Russia had not been associated with traditional political training projects.”
“They’ve now, in recent years, focused much more of their effort on the things that parties are asking for, specifically youth leadership training, civil society, women’s political participation, advocacy on issues like healthcare, and with civil society activists in the regions who are looking for help in pushing out their messages,” the State Department representative said.
She declined to specify what programs United Russia participated in, adding that she doesn’t “have the details” and is “seeking more information.”
“But you asked me to confirm whether they (United Russia) have been in (USAID programs) and I can do that,” Nuland said.
Cossacks Block Entry to Pro-Pussy Riot Art Exhibit
The opening night of an art exhibition dedicated to punk band Pussy Riot at the Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art was briefly disrupted by a group of Cossacks on Thursday.
The "Spiritual Abuse" exhibit has once again placed art and religion in opposite corners of the ring: the organizers called for icon-painting to be freed from its “historical chains” like dogmatism, obscurantism and ignorance, while the pro-Orthodox Church Cossacks naturally saw it as sacrilegious.
The exhibit previews showed a piece entitled “The Savior,” in which the image of Christ is replaced with a face covered in a balaclava.
Shortly before the opening, several burly men wearing Cossack uniforms went in accompanied by a few journalists and onlookers. Security guards at the gallery immediately formed a live shield. But when the crowd started chanting “No to liberal fascism!” three buses of OMON special police appeared.
Two Cossack activists were arrested. “He’s the deputy chief of the Don Cossack Host! And they arrest him for carrying a whip, which is part of the traditional attire,” said Ksenia, a Cossack activist. “We were called by the Headquarters to come here and try to block the entrance. But we can see now it was a provocation.”
“Tell me what’s going on in there,” begged Yevgenia Maltseva, the artist who painted the controversial pictures but could not get through the cordon of Cossacks and OMON to attend the opening. “I can’t say I didn’t have misgivings about what this could lead to. I was vacillating between resolving to go through with it and taking flight. But I was also tormented by the events of the past few months, which have forced us all to take a stand on religion.”
Art collector Viktor Bondarenko, the project initiator, tried to fend off journalists. “Would you kindly tell me exactly what they find sacrilegious here?” he demanded. “Our project is a response to the latest developments, sure. Any artist or icon-painter reflects the era in which they work. But I still have some confidence that Russia is a secular state and church rules should not regulate the life of the country. We aren’t displaying these exhibits in a church, but in a modern art gallery.”
Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin told RIA Novosti that the works, featuring members of the punk band Pussy Riot, jailed for two years for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, could insult the holy image revered by Christians.
The Moscow Patriarchate press office described the exhibit as a “cynical attack against Russian culture” which has nothing to do with art.
Winzavod does not plan to close the exhibit until the gallery’s owner, Marat Gelman, returns to Moscow.
“Mr. Gelman, who agreed to host the project at his gallery, is aware of Winzavod’s policy not to put on any shows which incite religious or political hatred. Once he returns from his trip, the Winzavod board will meet to discuss further plans for this project,” said Winzavod Director Yelena Panteleyeva.
Russia Could Ban Publication of Officials’ Names Without Their Knowledge
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday approved new regulations concerning the handling of the personal data of Russian citizens. From now on data protection is to be agreed with the Federal Security Service. Experts see a connection in the fuzzy wording with the high-profile case against RIA Novosti chief editor Svetlana Mironyuk, who is accused of divulging the personal data of ex-investigator Gulnara Mustafina, now an adviser in the presidential executive office. They suspect that the timing of the new regulations is no coincidence and fear it may soon become impossible to publish officials’ names without their consent.
The new rules enable additional threats to the security of personal data to be identified when the data is processed in information systems. Data protection is to be agreed with the Federal Security Service of Russia and the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control.
The next hearing in the trial over Svetlana Mironyuk is scheduled for October 3. Observers have noticed many odd things about it, starting with the substance of the claim and the fact that the defendant is Mironyuk herself, rather than the management of Moskovskiye Novosti, the newspaper that printed the article about corruption in the Interior Ministry and which is a subsidiary of RIA Novosti.
Staff at the news agency are also amazed at the speed with which the claim was filed – the procedure took only a few days. The charge is also worded in a strange way. Mustafina is displeased that her name was mentioned in the Moskovskiye Novosti article on corruption in the Interior Ministry, thereby, she claims, disclosing her personal information.
Experts see disturbing trends in all this, which they believe point to new difficulties for journalists and bloggers who regularly publish damaging information about well-known officials, drawing the ire of the authorities. On Wednesday, Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov hinted at the unacceptability of such publications, seeing it as an opportunity to engage in a PR exercise.
Well-known blogger Oleg Kozyrev is categorical: these initiatives are aimed solely at protecting officials and their personal data. “They are designed to put barriers in the way of anti-corruption investigations by Alexei Navalny and other bloggers,” he says.
Commenting on the strange case of Mironyuk, the blogger stresses: “The full name of a person should not be classified information. We are not talking about bank or passport details.”
Defense counsel Vadim Prokhorov is also puzzled by the claim. “The name of an individual and his or her official status should not be kept secret from the public, unless this individual is a secret agent.”
A Nezavisimaya Gazeta source says the reasons for the conflict could be twofold: “First, it might be a precedent-setting attempt to hamper investigative reporting. Unless the name of the official concerned is disclosed, a probe becomes meaningless. Second, it might be some kind of turf war or bureaucratic infighting, as evidenced by the famous names in the lawsuit.”
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