Russia’s Human Rights Record Worst in 20 Years
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented its annual report on human rights violations across the world. The situation in Russia is so disappointing that human rights activists hope that Russian officials, who keep ignoring their complaints, will at least listen to the IOC as we approach the Sochi Olympics.
In the 600-page report on 90 countries, Russia takes up ten pages. HRW is warning against a decline in the civil liberties situation in the country.
“After his return to the presidency, Vladimir Putin oversaw the swift reversal of former President Dmitry Medvedev’s few, timid advances on political freedoms and unleashed an unprecedented crackdown against civic activism. New laws in 2012 restrict nongovernmental organizations and freedom of assembly and expression.”
HRW specifically blasts the discrimination against the LGBT community through a number of laws banning the promotion of homosexuality.
“Last year was the hardest for Russia,” says HRW Deputy Director Rachel Denber. “What is happening now must not be hushed up.”
Only a year ago, HRW recognized some positive trends in Russia, including the decriminalization of slander, which was, however, reversed in 2012. Just in the last year, centralized rule in Russia has become more authoritarian than ever in the country’s modern history.
Officials tend to shrug off the opinions of human rights activists and experts, and this is one of the main problems, according to Denber. HRW intends to enlist the cooperation of the International Olympic Committee to influence the Kremlin.
“Russian officials have tried to instill a suspicion and mistrust among the population of anything foreign,” says Denber. “This contradicts the transparency we expect from the host country of an upcoming Olympic event.”
Denber also notes that Western countries now find it much more difficult to criticize Russia for human rights violations. How can Washington call for justice when the White House fails to start prosecuting former members of the George W. Bush administration allegedly involved in torturing prisoners?
The IOC’s influence may be as much as HRW can hope for.
The State Duma called HRW’s findings “ridiculous nonsense” and intends to do nothing about them.
“These organizations are only trying to cast a shadow on the international celebration of sport, but they won’t succeed,” said Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak, adding the criticism is aimed at destabilizing the country through outside influence.
The president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has not been available for comment.
“Human rights activists often appeal to the IOC but usually without success,” says political scientist Alexei Makarkin. “There were similar protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics, but the games went smoothly. Even the boycotted Moscow Olympics in 1980 were recognized by the IOC.”
Putin Plans Institutional Revolution in Russia
Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are back to their old PR scheme, the former talking to the majority and the “East,” the latter to the minority and the “West.” As before, there are no guarantees they will make good on their promises, but nevertheless there is a noticeable change: Putin’s declarations sound more radical than Medvedev’s.
The two seem to be vying for who can put forward the most daring plan for the future. Medvedev has a governmental program that promises transition to a new economic growth model, improve the investment climate, shoot up in the Doing Business and university ratings, build an international financial center, promote small businesses and increase individual mobility.
Putin, too, has a program, which is even more specific. He wants to privatize assets by floating them on the Russian stock exchange. Perhaps this is what Kremlin strategists have dubbed the “nationalization of the elite.” Potentially it could mean a shift that is more profound and fundamental than all of Medvedev's abstract government programs.
The president’s plan is about toughening the rules regulating ownership of property abroad, bringing capital outflow back home and insistently recommending that the business community “buy Russian.”
Strategically, people withdraw money from Russia in search of security and clear guarantees that they will not lose their assets and, moreover, will be able to leave them to their heirs. How can they do that if they don't have 100 percent certainty that the agreements they sign, their wills or court rulings will be honored?
Creating the same security guarantees in Russia as, for example, in Austria is tantamount to completely replacing the existing institutional system with a new one. This amounts to a revolution that would affect a whole class of military “entrepreneurs” who feed off the federal budget, many of whom are Putin’s friends and cronies.
The strengthening of property ownership rights in Russia will crush the parasitic business empires and interests. But few institutional revolutions in the world occur without conflict and Putin must surely realize this. However, if he hopes to get away without a revolution, everything he is saying is nothing but a publicity exercise, or a veiled hint that the repatriation of money will be driven by threats, blackmail or hypnosis. But that's another story.
Oboronservice Develops Luxury Dacha with Airport Upgrade Money
Investigators suspect Chkalov Avia, an airport service company, of spending money allocated for the repair of a military airport runway to develop a luxury retreat for the former defense minister’s son-in-law.
Chkalov Avia, owned by Aviaremont (51 percent) and CEO Anna Tretyakova (49 percent), was the client who hired the contractors for the airport upgrade. Oboronservice transferred financing for the project to the company, which totaled about 1 billion rubles ($33.3 million), a law-enforcement source said.
Although Chkalov Avia reported a loss of 1 million rubles in 2011, every company that signed a contract with it over the last two years is being investigated, especially Promstroymontazh from Astrakhan, which is a contractor at Chkalovsky military airport, located just outside Moscow.
The company won a 100 million ruble contract from Oboronservice on July 14. However, it was the only bidder for the project though there are many similar companies in Moscow, a Defense Ministry official said.
A source at the airport confirmed that repairs were underway throughout 2012.
However, investigators suspect that Chkalov Avia was involved in fraudulent activity while building an 8-km access road to a luxury residence owned by Valery Puzikov, Anatoly Serdyukov’s son-in-law, on a local island. They believe the company regularly provided flights for Defense Ministry VIPs to spend time at Puzikov’s estate, as well as construction workers. The services were paid for by the government.
It is believed that Astrakhan-based Promstroymontazh may have spent part of the airport project funding to develop Puzikov’s dacha, or that the 100-million ruble contract could have been a kickback for a prior favor, a well-informed source said.
Promstroymontazh head Sergei Chetverikov admitted they were being investigated but denied any involvement with Puzikov’s dacha or access road.
“According to our records, Promstroymontazh employs 23 people,” a local tax service said. “But their payroll varies greatly from month to month. One month they report 750,000 rubles in the payroll, the next month 350,000 and the month after that, no wages at all.”
The local community council head, Vladimir Ivanov, had little to add. “The access road that investigators seem so concerned about has been there since there was a collective farm in the area. However, we couldn’t afford to repair it for the last 15-20 years. So we were more than happy when they suddenly began improving it by adding crushed stone and stabilizing the surface.”
Local residents say the new road was not used to deliver building materials to the island. They used helicopters. The locals who applied for jobs there were checked by the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service.
“They preferred non-drinkers and non-talkers,” a resident said. “Those who got the jobs considered themselves lucky.”
Officially, the facility on the island is referred to as a recreation base, headed by Yelena Tretyakova. As for Chkalov Avia – which allegedly delivers VIP guests and building materials there – it is headed by Anna Tretyakova. Both were unavailable for comment yesterday.
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