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Monday, December 24, 2007

Latest on Kozlovsky

Under a phalanx of Oborona banners, a protester
holds a sign that begs the people of Russia
to save Oleg Kozlovsky from a ghoulish slavery in the Russian army.

Confirming what we have already reported, heroic Russian human rights activist Yulia Malysheva writes: "Oleg is in the army in Ryazan as an ordinary soldier. Tomorrow he will see a doctor who will officially say whether he is 'OK.' Oleg said that every time a doctor sees him there is a FSB person present who directs the physician as to what to write in the medical documents. Oleg wants this to be known. Oleg is a reserve officer of Russian army but his documents somehow were 'lost.' His friends have a video of him taking the oath as an officer. Hopefully it can be published soon."

Meanwhile, FinRosForum reports:
A Moscow court handed sentences today on four activists arrested earlier for taking part in a demonstration protesting the illegal military draft of Oleg Kozlovsky, Moscow coordinator of the opposition youth movement, Oborona. The four being tried were Sergey Konstantinov from Kaliningrad, Yekaterina Kushner from Barnaul, Dmitry Konstantinov from Surgut, and
Alexey Ignatenko from Cheboksary. They were accused of non-compliance with police demands.

The judge sentenced Sergey Konstantinov to 15 days of administrative arrest. Eyewitnesses said Konstantinov gave the finger to the judge, after which he was dragged out of the courthouse into a waiting police van where he was beaten up severely.

Four activists present at the court session were arrested and carried away by the hands and feet after they refused to leave without the judge ordering the session to be a closed one. One of the four arrested, Valentina Chubarova, is the daughter of the TV and radio journalist, Viktor Shenderovich.

Sergey Konstantinov was taken by ambulance to hospital. Of the three other accused, Yekaterina Kushner received a fine of RUR 2,000, while Dmitry Konstantinov and Alexey Ignatenko were sentenced to fines and 10 days of administrative arrest. They will spend their New Year's Eve under arrest.
Other Russia updates the situation on those arrested protesting Kozlovsky's induction:
Sergei Konstantinov, one of the leaders of the “Free Radicals” movement, has been beaten by law enforcement officers after a court hearing on his recent arrest. He has been hospitalized at a Moscow clinic for his wounds, with a tentative diagnosis of a concussion to the brain.

Konstantinov had been arrested at a sanctioned demonstration on December 21st, and was standing trial along with three other activists. Individuals in the courtroom reported that four witnesses, Nikolai Zboroshenko, Aleksei Kazakov, Maria Paramonova and Valentina Chubarova, were forcefully expelled from the proceedings.

Sergei Konstantinov was ultimately sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest, and was fined 1000 rubles (€28 or $40). The three other arrested activists were also fined between 1000 and 2000 rubles, and two of them were sentenced to 10 days arrest. All four were charged with noncompliance to a militsiya officer and participating in an unsanctioned picket.

On December 21st, OMON Special Forces violently dispersed an opposition protest in Moscow, and arrested around 20 participants. Protesters had formally registered the demonstration to protest against violations in the December 2nd State Duma elections, but had also used the occasion to speak out against the illegal arrest and conscription of Oleg Kozlovsky.

It could not be more clear that the Kremlin is in deadly earnest and means to destroy Oborona from the top down, using the most extreme and brutal means available.

In related news, the Moscow Times reports that six candidates have been approved to run for president in March: "
First Deputy Prime Ministry Dmitry Medvedev, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov." Garry Kasparov has been kept off the ballot, as has Yabloko's candidate Vladimir Bukovsky. And the two liberal candidates Kasyanov and Nemtsov "now have to collect 2 million signatures in support of their bids and submit them to the commission by Jan. 16."

Writing the Wall Street Journal, Kasparov sums up the situation:

Ever since President Vladimir Putin took office eight long years ago, the political and media leadership of the West have had a full-time job trying to look on the bright side of Russia’s rapid turn from democracy.

The free press has been demolished, elections are canceled and rigged, and then we hear how popular Mr. Putin is. Opposition marches are crushed, and we’re told — over and over — how much better off we are today than in the days of the Soviet Union. This week Time magazine named Mr. Putin its 2007 “Person of the Year.” [Vladimir Putin] Vladimir Putin

Unfortunately, there is no silver lining to Russia’s descent into dictatorship. If anything there is a look of iron to it.

Condoleezza Rice, hardly a Putin critic, said recently that Russia “is not an environment in which you can talk about free and fair elections.” A good start, but this comment was not made where one would imagine — perhaps at a press conference insisting that Putin’s Russia be removed from the G-7 for making a mockery of democratic practices. No, her remark came as a side note to her very early endorsement of Mr. Putin’s handpicked heir to the throne, Dmitry Medvedev. The most revealing moment in Ms. Rice’s comments came when the topic of Mr. Medvedev as the next president was first broached. The official transcript reads: “SECRETARY RICE: Well, I guess, they’re still going to have an election in March. ” Perhaps my sense of humor was dulled during the five days I spent in a Moscow jail last month for protesting against these sham elections. Or maybe it was reading about the constant persecution of my fellow activists across the country that did it. Madam Secretary went on to speak approvingly of Mr. Medvedev, making the undemocratic nature of his selection sound like a minor annoyance. The last remaining element of democracy in Russia, the transition of power, will be destroyed. Will Mr. Putin and his successor still be welcomed with open arms in the club of leading democracies?

In the early days of our opposition activities last year, when members of Other Russia were harassed and arrested, the “bright siders” in the West said it could be worse. Later, when our marchers were badly beaten in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Mr. Putin’s fans in the West said at least the police weren’t killing us in the streets.

Last week, 22-year-old opposition activist Yury Chervochkin died in hospital after several weeks in a coma. He had been beaten nearly to death an hour after making an anxious cellphone call to our offices saying he was being followed by members of the organized-crime task force known as UBOP, which has become the vanguard of the Kremlin’s war on political opposition. A witness saw him clubbed repeatedly by men with baseball bats. Yury’s sin was not chanting Nazi slogans or praising the deeds of Josef Stalin, activities that regularly go unremarked in Russia these days. No, he had been caught throwing leaflets that read “The elections are a farce!” That was enough to make him a marked man. Now, for agitating for real democracy in Russia, he is dead.

The stakes have been raised to the highest level, and what bright side will be found now? Where is the line that cannot be crossed without a serious response from the West? So far Mr. Putin hasn’t found it — and he has good reason to suspect such a line simply does not exist. It is for the leaders in Washington, D.C., Paris and Berlin to decide what it means to denounce the Russian elections as fraudulent, only to then embrace the winners as democratic partners.

Lesser tragedies than that of Yury Chervochkin are occurring on a regular basis in Russia today. Last week journalist Natalya Morar was denied entry into the country on secret orders of the FSB security force, after writing investigative articles on financial deals with Kremlin connections. Lyudmila Kharlamova, a political organizer for Other Russia, was arrested after heroin was planted among her possessions in Orenburg. Activist Andrei Grekhov suffered a similar fate in Rostov, though the police chose to plant bullets instead of drugs in his pockets.

This is a good opportunity to remember Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist who was murdered on Oct. 7, 2006, Putin’s birthday. The police investigation into this infamous assassination has stalled and talk of it has died down. The Kremlin is counting on the same thing happening with “minor” cases like that of Yury Chervochkin.

In a recent speech, Mr. Putin said “the enemies of the state must be wiped out!” It has been made quite clear that by “enemies” he means anyone who opposes his total authority. It is no surprise that his words are taken at face value across the country, and acted on by security forces eager to prove their loyalty and enthusiasm.

The presidents and prime ministers of the West seem just as eager to bow down to the Kremlin and the great god of business as usual. Nicolas Sarkozy raced to congratulate Mr. Putin on his party’s election victory, despite the overwhelming evidence of massive fraud at the polls. A few days later France’s Renault picked up a 25% share in Russian automaker AvtoVaz, a purchase made from Sergei Chemezov and his arms-dealing company Rosoboronexport. Why should Mr. Putin and his oligarchs worry about democracy as long as the money keeps rolling in?

Time magazine, of course, took obvious pains to explain that its award to Mr. Putin is “not an endorsement” and that it goes to the person who made the most news “for better or for worse.” Nonetheless the article praises Mr. Putin for restoring his country to prominence in the international arena, dispelling “anarchy” and recovering national pride. The magazine does express concern about his “troubling” record on human rights.

The same things could have been said about Adolf Hitler in 1938, when he took his turn as Time’s Man of the Year. “Fascism,” Time wrote then, “has discovered that freedom — of press, speech, assembly — is a potential danger to its own security.” Again these words apply equally well to this year’s winner.

Most of the criticism leveled against Mr. Putin regards “alleged” abuses or comes directly from known critics. This abdicates the journalist’s role to report the facts as facts.

Consider the timing of this announcement, right after the counterfeit parliamentary elections that added to Mr. Putin’s record of eradicating democracy across Russia. The Time article will be trumpeted by Kremlin propaganda as an endorsement of Mr. Putin’s policies. The man on the street will be told that even America, constantly blasted by the Kremlin as an enemy, has been forced to recognize the president’s greatness.

Internationally, the focus will be on the myth that Mr. Putin has built a “strong Russia.” In fact he and his cronies have hollowed out the state from within. Most of the power now resides in the super-corporations like Gazprom and Rosneft, and among the small group of loyalists who run them.

The Putin regime has taken Russia from a frail democracy to an efficient mafia state. It was an impressive balancing act — behaving like a tyrant while at the same time staying in the good graces of the West. After each crackdown, with no significant international reaction forthcoming, Mr. Putin knew it was safe to take another step. As ever, appeasement in the name of realpolitik only encourages would-be dictators. And such moral weakness inevitably leads to very real costs in human life

It's a pity of course that Kasparov did not manage to make reference to Kozlovsky's fate; even he is coming up short in many respects, clearly not doing all in his power to stand up for democracy in Russia -- but he is doing far more, and risking far more, than most. The West looked the other way as Stalin and Hitler rose to power, then paid a huge price for their indifference.

Will we make exactly the same mistake all over again?

Grigori Pasko Interviews Kozlovsky Before the Crisis

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