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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kasparov Arrested, Der Speigel talks of EU-Russia "Divorce"

Der Speigel reports that the Kremlin has launched a wave of preemptive arrests to prevent the Other Russia movement from protesting at the EU-Russia summit in Samara:

Summer has arrived right on time for the European Union-Russia summit on in the resort town of Samara on Friday. Under clear blue skies, the citizens of this city on the Volga River are sweltering and basking in the sun. Children in swimsuits splash around in the fountain on Osipenko Street; students doze in the heat. Naturally the EU-Russia summit is the talk of the town. Yura pushes her sunglasses up to her forehead, gives the thumbs up and tries out her smattering of German: "Merkel -- Gut!"

Yura hasn't heard anything about the "March of Dissenters" -- a demonstration organized by the opposition coalition "The Other Russia." "What are they so dissatisfied about?" she asks. "If I wasn't satisfied with something, I would just go somewhere else." Like most people in Samara, Yura is honored that the European visitors are coming to her city, and knows nothing about the planned protests, which are due to start at this very fountain late Friday afternoon. That is if anyone actually turns up.

The march was given official approval late last week, following pressure from Germany, the current rotating president of the EU. But despite the fact that the city authorities have given the green light for the protest, the repression of Other Russia is in full swing. Over the past 10 days, 15 members of the opposition have been arrested; and on Friday morning another 13, including the coalition's leader, chess champion Garry Kasparov, were arrested and prevented from traveling to Samara. Human rights activists are describing this as a deliberate campaign against the organizers of the march.

'A Targeted and Co-Ordinated Action'

Anastasia Kurt-Adzhiye, spokeswoman for The Other Russia, was arrested last Sunday. The petite 19-year-old was accused of carrying grenades and a knife in her small black handbag. "I showed them the permit from the mayor, which allows our demonstration," she said. Rubbish, the police told her -- the signature must have been forged. The mayor had to interrupt his holiday to clear up the matter. But that didn't stop the security forces from forging ahead with other arrests. On Monday Yuri Chervinchuk was arrested, supposedly as part of an anti-terror operation, while Michail Merkushin was taken into custody because he looked like a wanted criminal.

"It really looks as if this is a targeted and co-ordinated action by the security apparatus," says Sergey Shimovolos of the Moscow-Helsinki Group. The human rights organization has sent him to Samara as an observer. "Everything possible is being done to prevent this legally approved demonstration," he says. Russian security forces seem to be pursuing a new strategy. In April massive contingents of police forcefully broke up opposition demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Now, because of huge interest in the EU-Russia summit -- and the presence of the international media -- the Kremlin wants to avoid images of thuggish police beating up protesters. There is no sign of the feared OMON riot police on the streets of Samara. Instead individual militiamen are patrolling the city, decked out in parade uniform for the summit.

But the opposition hasn't been left in peace. The police have switched tactics -- now they're intimidating and immobilizing the activists in the run up to the summit. They started carrying out preventive arrests on Thursday, just as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin were making their way to Samara.

Looking to Merkel for hope

Leading members of Other Russia were arrested at the Samara train station. Denis Bilunov, an advisor to Putin opponent Garry Kasparov, had only just arrived in the city when he was taken away, accused of carrying counterfeit money. He was only released again later on Thursday night. "They wanted to stop me from doing my work," he says. Bilunov was supposed to be preparing a meeting between Kasparov and Samara's mayor on Friday morning.

Kasparov himself was detained on Friday morning at 8.30 a.m. as he was checking in for his flight. "The Moscow-Samara flight must have been have pretty empty this morning," says Julia Galamina, a spokesperson for the opposition group. In all the Moscow police prevented 13 people from traveling to Samara on Friday morning. Those arrested include Eduard Limonov, the head of the banned National Bolshevik Party.

Another member of the same party was sentenced to six months in prison this week, for injuring his probation officer, according to the authorities. In 2004 he had taken part in the occupation of Russian government buildings and had been given a suspended sentence. Kurt-Adzhiye, of the Other Russia, is at the Osipenko Street fountain, and she is worried about her team. "Two other friends have gone missing since they were arrested for putting up posters," she says. Her phone rings again and it's more bad news: In Moscow, Sergei Udasltsov, the leader of the Vanguard of Red Youth has been arrested. "Right at the Kasan train station. He wanted to come to Samara." She is now placing her hopes in the European Union. After all, it was thanks to European influence that the march was allowed at all -- and for the first time. Previous marches had always been banned by the Russian authorities. "Hopefully Angela Merkel will bring up the subject," Kurt-Adzhiye says. "Maybe she will get an answer from Putin about what is happening in our country. He won't answer us at all." On Friday afternoon, Merkel answered their wish. Appearing at a press conference and standing next to Putin, she said: "I'm saying very openly I wish that those who this afternoon want to protest and express their opinion will be able to do so. I'm somewhat concerned that people had difficulties getting here, but perhaps a possible demonstration can still take place.''

Der Speigel continues with a piece analyzing EU-Russia relations and reviewing European news coverage which is headlined: "Europe and Russia: The Divorce?"

The European Union and Russia are staging a business summit in Samara on Friday to discuss future relations between continental governments and Moscow. The original point of the meeting was to negotiate a new treaty on energy and trade, but a slew of controversies have set the two sides at odds -- from a planned American missile shield in Eastern Europe to street violence (or even cyberwar (more...)) over a Soviet war memorial in Estonia. All week German papers have blamed these controversies on Russia, and on Friday the Kremlin disappointed them again with the arrest of opposition leaders (more...), including chess champ Gary Kasparov, who were planning to attend a protest at the summit.

Friction between Russia and its old Soviet satellites in Europe has already stalled formal negotiations (more...) in Samara -- there won't even be a joint statement released by the EU and Russia, a rare omission for a European summit. But German papers on Friday are asking whether the EU and Russia have any common values left.

The left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The EU and Russia stand at a crossroads. The EU summit in Samara will play out in public a drama which has been perceptible for years but never clearly portrayed. Aside from polite commonplaces, the two sides have nothing to say. Worse, they don't even speak the same language."

"This division between so-called Slavophiles and Westerners was described by Turgenev 150 years ago in his novel 'Smoke': When ten Englishmen meet, they talk about something concrete and positive -- an undersea telegraph line. Germans discuss German unity. Frenchmen end up telling dirty jokes. 'But when the Russians come together,' Turgenev writes, 'they raise the question of the future and meaning of Russia ... They chew and chew on this unhappy question. They also take the chance to talk about the lazy West ... We (Russians) curse it, yet we care about its opinion.'"

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Western emissaries already travel to Moscow as 'crisis managers' -- most recently Condoleezza Rice and Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Relations are cooler (than at the start of Boris Yeltsin's presidency) because of diverging interests that can no longer be cloaked in sentimentality. That's the background of the chancellor's (Angela Merkel's) trip to Samorra as EU president. It won't be a pleasure trip for her, either, but rather a mission of reason and realism. It's realism that is the best way to approach ties with Russia. One should neither try to cover up the country's problematic domestic political practices nor harbor too much optimism about Russia's capability for democratization."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Anyone wanting to understand why there won't be any groundbreaking agreements at Friday's EU-Russia summit need not even look at the long list of problems that ranges from missile defense to Polish meat exports to Kosovo. All you really need to do is look at the man at the center of it all. Vladimir Putin, Russia's president -- like Tony Blair and George W. Bush -- is what people in the classic model of western democracy like to call a 'lame duck.'"

"Putin is expected to leave office in 10 months, and the way in which EU-Russian ties develop in the longer term will be determined by his successor. At the same time, unlike other lame ducks, Putin is anything but weak right now. Strengthened by his country's oil and gas-driven economic boom, Putin is maneuvering with confidence, and he's sending out signals about Russia's longterm strategy. And nobody thinks, as they do with Bush, that things will suddenly change when Putin is gone."

"This is because of the state of democracy in Russia today. One can't even rule out the possibility that Putin will stay in power -- either by finding a way to remain in office or by maintaining power from a backstage position. This complete lack of certainty is one of the deeper reasons for the current troubles in EU-Russian relations."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The Kremlin is taking a hard line for itself and its interests in order to destabilize the Europeans, to weaken trans-Atlantic ties and to kill an EU security policy that is anchored in the United States. Regarding Kosovo, which is a flashpoint in Europe, Moscow has become more Serbian than the Serbs."

"Is it a tactic of irritation or a strategy of confrontation? The Europeans won't be doing themselves any favors if they are unable to be decisive or steer clear of firm words. Europe's relationship with Russia isn't dead, but it is off balance."

Once again, in other words, and solely because of its own outrageous actions, the Russian people find themselves utterly alone, having alienated and provoked the entire world.

The time is now long past when the Russian people can seek to avoid blame for the Kremlin's actions by claiming that it is occupied by a rogue regime beyond their control. The Russian people themselves elected this regime, knowing full well it was dominated by KGB ideology of hatred and contempt for Western values. They continue to show in public opinion polls that they approve its actions. Therefore, they are directly responsible for the consequences. With each day that passes, they consign themselves more helplessly into the position of a third-world state, Zaire with permafrost.

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