Vladimir Putin: does he use Botox?

Don’t let the smooth forehead, rosy cheeks and wrinkle-free eye area fool you – rumours of Vladimir Putin‘s use of Botox have long swirled around Russia.

As Putin launched an annual televised question and answer programme, those rumours went global. Top trending on Twitter during the marathon event wasn’t #putin or it was #botox (in Cyrillic script), the hashtag that critical Russians ascribe to their increasingly unpopular 59-year-old premier.

Putin might find the nickname insulting, but at least it’s better than the one regularly ascribed to President Dmitry Medvedev: #zhalky (#pathetic).

One joke that did the rounds in September after Putin confirmed he would run again for the presidency next year was, “In response to the charge that there are no new faces in Russian politics, Vladimir Putin got plastic surgery.”

The rumours of his Botox use first emerged last October, when he showed up to a meeting in Kiev sporting a massive blue-and-yellow bruise around his eye. Botox, concluded Russia’s blogosphere. Putin’s spokesman was forced to issue denials. “It’s probably just how the light fell. The prime minister is tired.”

Earlier this year, Russia’s liberal New Times magazine revived that speculation in an article titled, “What has happened with Putin’s face?”

It spoke to four plastic surgeons who contended that the Russian leader had probably had cosmetic surgery. It was likely that he had undergone Botox injections in his forehead, an eye-lift on his lower lids, and an injection of firming filler into his cheek bones.

Putin’s face has contorted and smoothed out so much that it’s at times unrecognisable. Talking to teenagers at the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group’s summer camp this year, he was at pains to smile. All wrinkles had disappeared. The chatter in the blogosphere was had Putin out- Berlusconi-ed Berlusconi?

Putin and the Italian premier are close friends. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch to many that they would share plastic-surgery tips and contacts.

Russia’s Baltic radar to be fully operational by 2014

Russia’s new anti-missile radar station in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad will become fully operational by the middle of 2014, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

“According to our estimates, it will take about one and a half years to put the facility into full operation,” Serdyukov said.

The facility was opened in late November to counter the perceived threat from a joint U.S.-NATO missile defense system in Europe. President Dmitry Medvedev attended the station’s inauguration ceremony during his visit to the city.

When the radar enters full operation, it will be able to monitor simultaneously 500 targets at a distance of up to 6,000 kilometers, Serdyukov said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry plans to deploy S-400 surface-to-air missiles to beef up the facility’s security, Serdyukov said.

The full text of the interview will be published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Friday.


Brussels Raises Election Concerns At Russia Summit

BRUSSELS — The European Union used a summit with Russia today to highlight concerns over claims of massive fraud during this month’s Russian parliamentary elections.

Russia’s December 4 State Duma elections and their aftermath — including the detention of demonstrators — were not officially on the agenda of the summit, which otherwise focused on economic and visa liberalization issues.

But the EU made clear in the run-up that it would raise its worries with Dmitry Medvedev during his last summit with the bloc as Russia’s president.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference after the summit that the EU had been perturbed by election monitors’ reports of irregularities and lack of fairness in the December 4 vote, and about the detention of protesters.

On the other hand, Van Rompuy did note that “the recent large demonstrations were peaceful and the authorities, in my view, handled it very well.”

Medvedev Defiant

Tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow on December 10 and on previous days calling for the election to be rerun after widespread allegations the vote was rigged to favor the ruling United Russia party.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (second from left) before the start of the EU-Russia summit
​​Van Rompuy stopped short of asking for a re-run of the elections, which a European Parliament resolution had called for this week.

At a press conference on December 15 after the summit, Medvedev roundly criticized that call by the EU assembly.

“This is our election and the European Parliament has nothing to do with it,” he said. “[European Parliament members] may comment on anything they want, but I’m not going to comment on their decisions. They mean nothing to me.”

Medvedev also added the European Union had problems with human rights, especially when it comes to Russian-speaking minorities in EU member states.

“We have our own problems in Russia, but there are problems in the European Union, too,” he said. “There are problems with the rights of Russian-speaking citizens in several [EU] countries, the well-known facts of xenophobia, extremism, and neo-Nazism in a number of countries of the European Union.”

Lifting Visa Requirements

One of the few concrete results of the meeting was an agreement on conditions for the lifting of European Union visa requirements for Russian citizens.

The common steps, as the agreement is called, will mainly push Russia to upgrade its standards in areas such as the introduction of biometric passports, data protection, and the re-admission of illegal migrants — changes that together can take up to five years.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso maintained that the ultimate goal is to achieve complete visa liberalization.

“We have launched the common steps towards visa-free travel,” he said. “This decision has clear potential benefits for our citizens and for people-to-people contacts. In order to achieve real progress, the task ahead of us is to fully implement the agreed common steps, which can lead to the opening of visa-waiver negotiations.”

Russia has insisted that negotiations for visa liberalization should be initiated automatically once it has met the conditions, but several EU member states have refused to guarantee such a move.

Possible Eurozone Investment

Meanwhile, Medvedev said at the December 15 news conference that Russia would look into possible investment in the International Monetary Fund to shore up the eurozone, but made no reference to any specific Russian contribution.

“We will abide by the commitments we have as a participant in the International Monetary Fund and we are ready to invest the necessary financial means in order to support the European economy and the eurozone,” he said.
Earlier, on the sidelines of the summit, Kremlin economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich reiterated a promise by Russia to provide at least $10 billion in funds for the eurozone via the IMF.

The EU is Moscow’s biggest trade partner, with trade totaling $286 billion between January and September of this year. The 27-member bloc is also the largest consumer of Russian gas.

With agency reports

Billionaire Prokhorov to run for president, pledges to create new party

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced on Monday he would run for presidency at the upcoming presidential elections next March and create a new political party.

“I made probably the most serious decision in my life. I am running for president,” Prokhorov told a press conference, adding that he would have to collect signatures and register for the elections very soon.

He said that he would unveil his political agenda after he registered as candidate.

Prokhorov also pledged to build a new political party “from scratch.”

He did not rule out the possibility of cooperation with Russia’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who earlier told the Vedomosti daily newspaper that he is in contact with Prokhorov about the possible establishment of a new political party.

The businessman however dismissed the claims that he had discussed his presidential ambitions with the Kremlin.

Asked whether he had met with President Dmitry Medvedev or Putin, Prokhorov said he “had not met either.”

Prokhorov, who has chosen Russia’s middle class as his electoral base, said he would not build his presidential campaign on criticism of Putin.

“Criticism must make up no more than 10 percent…I would like to focus on the things I would do,” he said.

He also said he had at least five or six candidates for the post of Prime Minister, although he refused to disclose any names.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after Prokhorov’s statement that Putin was aware of the businessman’s ambitions.

“Any person whom the constitution and law allows to run for president has the right to do so. This situation is not surprising,” Peskov said without elaborating on Putin’s reaction about Prokhorov’s statement.

On Thursday Prokhorov said in his blog that he saw no alternative to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president.

“Whether they [Russian people] like it or not, Putin is so far the only figure who can manage this inefficient state machine,” Prokhorov said in his LiveJournal blog, following the mass protests against the allegedly rigged parliamentary polls that brought Putin’s party, United Russia, to victory.

Prokhorov planned to take part in December’s parliamentary elections as the leader of the Right Cause party, but in mid-September he was dismissed as the party’s leader for allegedly not toeing the Kremlin line. He then accused the first Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov of being linked to the party’s split and said he would push for Surkov’s dismissal.

“I have found a more sophisticated way [to dismiss Surkov], I think I should just become his boss,” Prokhorov said.

The Right Cause’s acting head Andrei Dunayev said the party would support Prokhorov at the elections if they could be sure of his independence from the Kremlin.

“I would sincerely like to believe that he came to this decision on his own. If we can be sure about this, we will definitely support him,” Dunayev said.

After Prokhorov announced his presidential plans, his name appeared on the Twitter world trends’ list.

Pro-Kremlin response rally draws 25,000 in Moscow

More than 25,000 supporters of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gathered just outside the Kremlin on Monday in response to the biggest opposition demonstration in Moscow in years, police said. 

Members of the country’s pro-Kremlin youth movements chanted pro-government slogans and brandished banners including “We PUT IN our Votes!”, “We have voted! We have won!”

Popular blogger Rustem Adagamov uploaded photos of the rally on Twitter, claiming there were fewer than 25,000 people there.

The pro-Kremlin demo comes two days after the biggest anti-government rally since the fall of communism.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in downtown Bolotnaya Square on Saturday to condemn alleged vote-rigging in favor of Putin’s ruling United Russia party in the December 4 parliamentary election and demand a re-run. Smaller rallies were also held in St. Petersburg and dozens of other cities.

United Russia managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority but opponents claim its real figures were much lower.

The party denied the rally was in response to Saturday’s protest, saying it was to celebrate Russia’s Constitution Day.

“This meeting was planned long before the rally at Bolotnaya Square, as part of the Consitution Day celebrations,” senior party member Andrei Vorobyov said.

Opposition leaders said anti-government protests will continue on December 24.

In a Facebook post on Sunday night, President Medvedev promised to investigate reports of fraud but said he did not agree with “the slogans or statements heard at the rallies.” 

Medvedev’s update drew thousands of comments, with many users asking which slogan the president did not agree with.

“So are you against fair elections?” writers asked.  

Putin’s party launches Facebook group ‘for fair elections’

A group entitled “United Russia for fair elections” has been launched on Facebook on the behalf of Russia’s largest political party amid a wave of protests against the alleged fraud in its favor in last week’s parliamentary polls.

“We, United Russia members, call for fair elections!” a post on the group’s Facebook page reads. “We are against falsifications and manipulations… We fair and decent people… are annoyed at being stigmatized by our political opponents as [our] party stays silent. We call for ridding the party of corrupt members, impostors, cinical careerists and puppets.”

As of Monday afternoon, some 70 people had joined the group, which is administrated by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the leader of United Russia’s Liberal Club group of members.

In one of her posts, Kryshtanovskaya wrote that United Russia was “interested more than anyone else to have legitimate and fair elections,” and that “those guilty of falsifications should be found and punished.”

United Russia, backed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, lost its tight grip on parliament in the December 4 elections while still winning enough votes to keep a majority and to be able to pass legislation without seeking approval from other parties.

Popular protests against what many view as wide-spread election fraud in favor of United Russia have been held across the country over the past week, culminating in a major rally in central Moscow on Saturday, which gathered some 25,000 people, according to official estimates, or up to 40,000 protesters, according to unofficial accounts.

The protesters have called for new elections or a recount of the votes, as well as for the dismissal of Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov.

Kryshtanovskaya wrote in her post that if Churov “allowed” the grounds for vote fraud allegations to appear, he “must step down immediately.”

She also proposed that those willing to vote openly “in order to be able to see what happened to their votes,” be given this opportunity.

Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that he disagreed with the slogans and demands of the protesters but urged all alleged violations during the polls to be investigated.


EU Plans To Raise Election Issue At Upcoming Russia Summit

EU officials plan to raise the issue of Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, which the opposition claims were rigged, in talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week.

Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, said she expected the issue would be raised at the EU-Russia summit due to take place on December 14-15 in Brussels.

“We expect that in the course of the [EU-Russia] summit, when the two sides will discuss the latest developments, the issue of elections and what has happened will be raised,” Kocijancic said.

Kocijancic also said the EU “welcomed” Medvedev’s decision to open an enquiry on the alleged electoral fraud.

Medvedev on December 11 said he had asked officials to look into reports of possible fraud during the December 4 elections, but categorically rejected calls for a rerun of the vote.

The ruling United Russia party won nearly half of the votes in the election.

On December 10, tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow alone, calling for fresh parliamentary elections.

Several thousand pro-Kremlin youth activists, meanwhile, staged their own gathering in central Moscow on December 12 under the slogan “Glory to Russia!”

compiled from agency reports

Kremlin Offers Minor Concessions To Protesters

MOSCOW — In the days since Russia witnessed the largest antigovernment demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin has made what appear to be a series of conciliatory gestures.

On December 10, as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest electoral fraud, state media surprised viewers by airing full, straightforward, and by most accounts fair coverage of the protests.

The next day, the Russian Orthodox Church, which is staunchly loyal to the Kremlin, called on the authorities to “adequately and honestly” address the opposition’s demands, which include annulling the elections. Also on December 11, President Dmitry Medvedev posted a message on his Facebook page calling for an investigation into the fraud allegations.

On December 12, former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a politician very close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, acknowledged the elections’ shortfalls and hinted that he was prepared to help found a new, liberal, democratic party.

“This election has shown a deficit of political forces or structures that would defend liberal, democratic values. And this deficit has proven to be more acute than we could have imagined 12 or six months ago,” Kudrin said.

“So today, one can say with certainty that this deficit is so significant and the demand for the creation of such a structure is so high that it will be created.”

Kudrin added that there would be a “consolidation process among liberal and democratic forces” and that he was “ready to help” in that process.

Taken together, the moves suggest the Kremlin is trying to patch up ties with the disgruntled urban middle class that fueled the protests and is planning to take to the streets again on December 24.

Later, State Duma speaker and leader of United Russia’s Supreme Council Boris Gryzlov said the ruling party was ready to share executive posts in the lower house of parliament with opposition factions, according to Interfax.

A counterdemonstration organized by pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi meanwhile attracted hundreds of government supporters in the Russian capital on December 12.

WATCH: Kremlin sympathizers gathered in downtown Moscow on December 12 to show support for the government and the results of the recent elections:


Domestic And International Alarm

Analysts say the government’s gestures may be too little too late — especially since there is little indication the authorities are willing to even consider the opposition’s more far-reaching demands, such as holding the December 4 parliamentary elections over again.

“It’s clear that the authorities are still extremely uncomfortable with these mass protests and demands. They still haven’t yet entirely formulated their reaction. There is still not a willingness to have high-ranking dialogue with the opposition,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Policy Fund.

“They’re trying to draw things out and a lot is going to depend on the pattern the protests take,” he adds. “Are they going to grow or shrink? If you take into account that the protest is not so much about the elections as about a section of society not wanting to see Vladimir Putin return to the presidency, then the protests will probably grow.”

European Union officials suggest that they plan to raise the issue of the Russian elections in talks with Medvedev this week.

“We expect that in the course of the [EU-Russia] summit, when the two sides will discuss the latest developments, the issue of elections and what has happened will be raised,” Maja Kocijancic, spokewoman for EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, said of the December 14-15 meetings in Brussels.

Kocijancic also said the EU “welcomed” Medvedev’s decision to open an inquiry on the alleged electoral frauds.

“Any participant of the summit is free to raise any topic of interest,” Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov said on December 12. “So I am sure that my president will not be surprised if this [election issue] is mentioned by his EU counterparts.”

Putin has been conspicuously quiet since the December 10 rallies and their aftermath. “We are hearing what is being said and we will continue to listen,” his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said.

Conciliatory Gestures

Medvedev’s call for an investigation on Facebook, where he said he disagreed with the protesters’ demands but that he had ordered an investigation into election fraud anyway, has failed to placate the opposition.

Longtime opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister, called the comments a “mockery.” The opposition, which has applied for a permit to hold a 50,000-strong protest on December 24, is demanding the annulment of the elections and the scheduling of a new vote, the resignation of Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov, and legislative changes that would allow all parties to compete.

Nevertheless, the changed tone since December 10 has been striking. The state-run First Channel interviewed Nemtsov that day, for example, identifying him as an “opposition leader.” It was the first time in years that Nemtsov was shown on television — other than in cases when he was being hauled off by police.

Meanwhile, the nominally private NTV, which is owned by the state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, devoted a five-minute report to the protests that stated the opposition’s demands in full and interviewed participants. “The most important thing probably is that enough is enough,” one of them said. “How much can people be cheated and taken for idiots?”

Boris Nemtsov was identified as an “opposition leader” on state TV.Boris Nemtsov was identified as an “opposition leader” on state TV.
​​The report, however, edited out the crowd’s chanting of antigovernment slogans like “Russia without Putin.”

The Orthodox Church’s decision to weigh in on the protests also raised eyebrows. Speaking to Interfax on December 11, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said the protesters “posed very serious questions that were uncomfortable for the authorities. We hope that the authorities will adequately and honestly answer them.”

No Common Language

Kudrin’s December 12 announcement, meanwhile, appeared to follow up on comments last week by deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov in which he said Russia needed a liberal political party to channel the anxiety and aspirations of the urban middle class.

It’s unclear, however, whether the protesters will be placated by what appears to be a Kremlin-controlled party — even one catering to them. That, after all, was the idea behind the ill-fated project to have billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov head up the liberal Right Cause party — a project that fell apart over conflicts between Prokhorov and Surkov.

Prokhorov, meanwhile, has announced that he plans to run in the March 2012 presidential election. It’s unclear, however, whether Prokhorov, who is historically close to the Kremlin, is acting as a political foil for the authorities or whether he is truly embracing the opposition.

With events moving rapidly, analysts say unity among the elite is showing signs of breaking down as various factions begin to pursue their own agendas.

“Now that the situation has started to develop in a bad way for the authorities, I think that some segments of the ruling elite have gone out of control and are playing their own game,” says Boris Shatilov, an analyst for the Moscow-based Center for Political Assessments. “If you assess what happened on the television stations and radio stations, you can see that the protesters actually had informational support.”

Shatilov adds, however, that it is highly unlikely that the authorities and opposition can find a common language, because the opposition “has from the start issued tough demands that are unacceptable for the authorities. The authorities, of course, will maneuver and try to stifle people’s political activity. I fear that political dialogue will not work out because the people who lead the opposition have nothing to lose and their goal is to destroy the regime and so they won’t be able to find consensus.”

with additional reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels

Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov to run for Russian presidency

MOSCOW — After a week of surprising challenges to his authority, Vladimir Putin faces a new one from one of Russia’s richest and most glamorous figures — the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets says he will run against Putin in March’s presidential election.

Mikhail Prokhorov’s announcement Monday came just hours after another Russian economic star, Putin’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, said he was ready to work to form a new party.

The declarations underline the extent of the discontent with the man who has dominated Russian politics for a dozen years, coming on the heels of Saturday’s unprecedented nationwide protests. Tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets to denounce alleged election fraud favoring Putin’s United Russia in Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.


The fraud and the party’s comparatively poor showing in the elections — losing about 20 percent of its seats, though it retained a narrow majority — galvanized long-marginalized opposition forces to conduct a startling series of demonstrations, including an enormous rally in Moscow of at least 30,000.

At a news conference announcing his candidacy, Prokhorov refrained from criticizing Prime Minister Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev, but said “society is waking up.”

“Those authorities who will fail to establish a dialogue with society will have to go,” he declared.

Medvedev has promised on his Facebook page that the alleged vote fraud will be investigated. But Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, predicted Monday the probe will show that little vote fraud occurred and that it had no effect on the outcome.

Peskov’s comment signaled that Putin — who served as Russia’s president in 2000-2008 and stepped over to the premiership because of term limits — is holding firm, despite the protests that were the largest in post-Soviet Russia.

It is unclear how effective a challenger the 46-year-old Prokhorov might prove to be. His wealth, estimated by Forbes magazine at $18 billion, and his playboy reputation may turn off voters who resent the gargantuan fortunes compiled by tycoons even as countless Russians struggled through the economic chaos of the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The 46-year-old bachelor is known for lavish parties and occasional scandal. He and some guests were arrested at a Christmas party in the French Alpine resort of Courchevel in 2007 for allegedly arranging for prostitutes; but he was soon released without charges.

Prokhorov made his fortune in metals and banking and became majority stakeholder in the New Jersey Nets last year. Since then, he has traveled widely to build a global fan base for team, in the process showing off his towering 6-foot-8 (203-centimer) frame and excellent command of English.

The 51-year-old Kudrin lacks that kind of flash, but as finance minister under both Putin and Medevedev he earned wide respect for his economic acumen. Kudrin was widely credited with softening the blow of the 2008-09 global downturn in Russia with his conservative fiscal policies. During Putin’s presidency from 2000-08, Kudrin set up a rainy day fund to stash some of the revenue from Russia’s oil exports. The idea angered many in the government who sought higher spending, but it ultimately proved to be an invaluable cushion.

In an interview with the business newspaper Vedomosti published Monday, Kudrin said the country needed a new liberal party and “I am to assist” in creating it.

Kudrin was fired in September for saying that he would not serve if Medvedev became premier after Medvedev agreed to step aside, become prime minister and allow Putin to run for another term. The decision by Medvedev and Putin to effectively swap positions was seen by critics as cynical and antidemocratic, so Kudrin’s dismissal could give him a principled aura.

Prokhorov said he hopes to win the support of Russia’s growing middle class, which formed the core of Saturday’s demonstrations. However, he said he agrees with only some of the anti-Putin and anti-government slogans shouted at rallies. He also did not say whether he plans to attend a follow-up protest in Moscow later this month.

He is one of several candidates who have said they will oppose Putin in the presidential election, including Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov, who has finished second in past presidential elections.

Prokhorov’s presidential bid follows his botched performance in the parliamentary race when he formed a liberal party under tacit support of the Kremlin, then abandoned the project under what he called Kremlin pressure.

He has personally blamed Vladislav Surkov, a presidential deputy chief of staff, for staging a mutiny within that party’s ranks. “I can solve that problem by becoming his boss,” Prokhorov said, referring to Surkov’s possible opposition to his presidential bid.

Prokhorov now faces the immediate challenge of collecting the 2 million signatures required to qualify for the presidential race. A number of opposition candidates and parties in the past could not even run for parliamentary seats because their applications were turned down for technical reasons.

Prokhorov also is not the first of Russian’s superrich to have ambitious political goals. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, has been in prison since 2003 on tax evasion and embezzlement charges that are widely seen as a punishment for having challenged Putin’s power.

The influential Russian Orthodox Church has also weighed in on the brewing controversy over the elections.

“Very serious questions have been raised, however uncomfortable for the authorities. We will hope that the authorities respond to them adequately and honestly,” church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin told the Interfax news agency.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

Main news of December 11


* South Ossetian opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva asked her supporters to stop demonstrations on the main square of the republic’s capital, Tskhinvali, under a deal reached with the incumbent authorities

* Residents of Moldova’s breakaway Transdnestr region voted to elect their leader for the next five years


* President Dmitry Medvedev disagreed with the demands of the tens of thousands of protesters

* Authorized and unauthorized protests against alleged electional fraud continued in several Russian cities

* Russian nationalist movements gathered for an authorized rally in the center of Moscow


Russian ex-finance minister says may establish new political party

It is an ideal time for establishing a new Russian right-wing party as the country’s “political landscape” is changing, former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in an interview with Vedomosti business daily published on Monday.

New Russian party to be established

In the first interview after his scandalous dismissal, Kudrin, who fell out with the Kremlin and was sacked as finance minister in late September, said he was ready to participate in the establishment of a new right-wing party as liberal views in Russia historically had not found wide support.

“The demand on the creation of such a [political] structure is so high that it will inevitably be established…I am ready to contribute to it,” Kudrin told Vedomosti.

The ex-minister, who had previously dismissed reports that he might become the Right Cause party’s leader, said that President Dmitry Medvedev had repeatedly asked him to head the party.

“I said no…as I realized that the Right Cause with its ‘unclear people’ and significant control from the Kremlin will be absolutely powerless,” Kudrin said.

Some Russian media reported earlier that the Right Cause party, once headed by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, was allegedly neutered by pro-Kremlin figures concerned about Prokhorov’s emergence as a political force.

United Russia loses grip

Kudrin, who confessed he had not voted for the United Russia party at the parliamentary elections on December 4, said that the souring support for the ruling party is a “rational result.”

“The United Russia party is losing support…These elections showed the unusual situation when people want to preserve and discuss the fairness of the elections. In this regard, people are not satisfied with the results, there are too many flaws,” Kudrin said.

Kudrin confirmed that the ruling party had not met the people’s expectations because there were not any significant changes in its key oaths, including easing conditions for business, tackling corruption and restoring the judiciary system.

“United Russia is an experienced and pragmatic party…I think it will return to reality after populist statements,” Kudrin said, referring to Russia’s “changing political landscape.”

No talks to occupy premier post

Kudrin, who was sacked soon after the United Russia’s congress on September 24 where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev after presidential elections, was rumored to possibly occupy the premier’s post.

“Nobody has discussed the premier post with me. The genuine reason of my leaving is that the previous incorrect decisions that were made would not be reviewed. I have no plans to fight with the consequences of the decisions that I was against,” Kudrin told Vedomosti, referring the Kremlin’s decision to increase defense costs, a move that Kudrin had sharply criticized.

The former minister also said that he had never been a close ally to Putin, but continued to respect him regardless “disagreements on several issues.”

Russian Vologda region’s governor resigns over lack of trust

The Governor of Russia’s Vologda region Vyacheslav Pozgalev wrote on his Twitter account on Monday that he had filed for resignation to President Dmitry Medvedev because of a lack of the people’s trust.

“I have filed a resignation petition to the president. I consider it impossible to run the region with such a level of distrust,” Pozgalev said, referring to the dramatically low level of support (33.4 percent) of the United Russia party in the Vologda region.

The governor’s press service confirmed that Pozgalev had posted the tweet about his resignation request but refused to comment on the issue.

Soon after the parliamentary elections, held on December 4, Medvedev warned that measures would be taken against those governors whose regions had not scored a large share of the votes for the ruling party, United Russia.

The party gained less than 35 percent of votes in fifteen Russian regions and saw its share of the vote fall sharply in Sunday’s polls.

In the rest of Russia it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority but opposition activists claim the party’s real figures were much lower.


Russia’s Medvedev Rejects Demand For New Vote, Orders Inquiry Into Fraud Claims

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he disagrees with demands made at nationwide protests for a rerun of parliamentary elections.

But Medvedev said on his Facebook account on December 11 that he had nevertheless asked officials to look into reports of possible violations at polling stations during the December 4 vote.

The ruling United Russia party won nearly half of the votes in the election amid allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

On December 10, tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow alone, calling for fresh parliamentary elections. Large demonstrations were also seen in St. Petersburg, as well as the country’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk, and the Urals industrial city of Chelyabinsk.

Boris Nemtsov, a former cabinet minister turned opposition leader, dismissed Medvedev’s Facebook message as “a mockery.”

Within hours of his statement, Medvedev had received several thousand comments on his Facebook site, most of them negative.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seen as almost certain to return as president in March, made no comment on the weekend protests.

A statement by his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave no hint of concessions, saying only “we are hearing what is being said and we will continue to listen.”

compiled from agency reports

Medvedev disapproves of rally’s slogans, but orders election probe

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation into alleged vote rigging, but stressed the messages voiced at the opposition demonstration Saturday did not carry his support.

­“I disagree with both the slogans and statements made at the rally. Nevertheless, I have given instructions that all reports from voting stations be checked to ensure compliance with election laws,” Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday.

Even so, Medvedev appeared to be satisfied with the way the rally went off on Saturday.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are Russian citizens’ constitutional rights. People have a right to speak their point of view, which they did yesterday. It is good, that everything passed within the law,” the President’s message reads.

Moscow police said 25,000 protesters gathered in central Moscow to protest the country’s parliamentary election results, following voting on December 4. The election brought 238 Duma seats out of 450 to United Russia – the party supporting Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In the previous vote, in 2007, United Russia won an overwhelming majority in the lower chamber of Parliament.

The announcement of this year’s elections brought on a stream of demonstrators claiming vote rigging. On Saturday, protests rolled through all of Russia, with Moscow seeing its biggest rally since 1993.

Medvedev dismissed most Saturday protesters’ demands

President Dmitry Medvedev disagreed Sunday with the demands of the tens of thousands of Russians who took to the streets the day before in protest over the results and alleged fraud at the Dec. 4 legislative elections.

“People have a right to express their position as they did yesterday. I disagree with slogans and claims announced at the rallies. Nevertheless, I have ordered to check all complaints from polling stations,” Medvedev wrote in his Facebook, in a first reaction from the country’s leadership to the nationwide demonstrations Saturday.

The protesters demanded to cancel the results of the vote, to allow all political parties to participate in them, to ouster the head of the Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov, to investigate all complaints about the vote-rigging and to have new State Duma elections.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the pro-Kremlin United Russia took place across the country on Saturday, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Some 7,000 people rallied in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, police said.

Secretary of the Central Electoral Commission Nikolai Konkin told reporters on Sunday the results of the elections could be contested only in court.

The biggest show of dissent took place in Moscow, where police said around 25,000 people gathered peacefully in driving sleet at Bolotnaya Square, a short walk from the Kremlin. Organizers put the crowd at nearer to 40,000. There were no arrests, police said.

Experts have different opinions if Medvedev’s comments can be a start of dialog with the society.

“The authorities have started dialog because elections results and situation in the country called for a dialog. There was a defiance at the rally on which the government had to react to,” political analyst Dmitry Orlov said.

Political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov thinks it is early to name the president’s comments a dialog.

“Dmitry Medvedev’s statement has not clarified authorities’ strategy on actions of the opposition. It is too early to name it a dialog,” Vinogradov said.

Political analyst Valeri Khomyakov considers Kremlin’s reaction as an attempt to start the dialog, adding that the check of the violations should be effectively controlled.

Members of the political parties, participated in the latest polls, told RIA Novosti they were unsatisfied with such reaction.

“The president told all participants before the elections that the polls would be fair but it turned into a farce. We have no hope that the applications will be examined,” Vadim Soloviyev, head of the legal department of the Communist Party, which was the second at the elections, said.

Member of the center-left A Just Russia party Gennady Gudkov said he disappointed in president’s comments as they did not meet with the tension of the day.

“Of course, the reaction is weak … because there should be another reaction from the president. We need a vote recount in several large regions as Moscow, St Petersburg, and Astrakhan. I think the recount should be in five or six large regions,” Gudkov said.

Member of the Yabloko party, which won just three percent of the vote, Sergei Mitrokhin said that Medvedev should order to initiate criminal cases on violations at the polls. After the check the only way will be cancellation of current results and conduction of new elections, Mitrokhin added.


Nationalists Rally in Moscow, One Day After Massive Antigovernment Protests

Some 300 nationalists staged a rally in downtown Moscow at the same site as massive antigovernment protests on December 10.

Carrying imperial Russian flags and banners, they demanded a bigger say for ethnic Russians in the country’s politics.

The rally comes a day after massive nationwide demonstrations protesting the results of Russia’s December 4 parliamentary elections, in which United Russia, the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, won a majority amid claims of fraud and vote-rigging.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow alone, calling for fresh parliamentary elections and the release of arrested protesters.

Police estimates on December 10 put the crowd at 20,000, while organizers cited much higher figures of up to 100,000.
​​Many carried signs reading “Russia Without Putin” in opposition to Putin’s plans to retake the presidency in elections in March, a move that would leave him the dominant figure in Russian politics for at least six more years.  

Large demonstrations were seen across all of Russia, with thousands of people turning out in St. Petersburg, as well as the country’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk, and the Urals industrial city of Chelyabinsk.

The protests, which in a surprise move were broadcast on state TV, forced officials to acknowledge the public is “displeased” by the recent vote.

The protests were seen as mainly peaceful, with police showing restraint. However, dozens of arrests were still reported, mainly in the country’s regions.

In a statement released late on December 10, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said Russian citizens had a right to express their point of view as long as they did so “in a lawful and peaceful manner.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he disagreed with demands for a rerun of the parliamentary elections.

Medvedev wrote on his Facebook account today that he disagrees with the slogans and declarations made at the rallies. He repeated that he had “issued instructions to check all polling station reports” about possible violations.

compiled from agency reports

Putin and Medvedev try to calm Russian election outcry

The Russian leadership has sought to calm tensions following an unprecedented protest against Vladimir Putin that brought tens of thousands of demonstrators on to the streets of Moscow.

The prime minister has yet to comment on the protest, but his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “We respect the point of view of the protesters. We are hearing what is being said. We will continue to listen to them.”

Up to 50,000 people demonstrated in Moscow on Saturday following the disputed parliamentary election in which Putin’s United Russia party won nearly 50% of the vote amid widespread allegations of fraud.

Protests took place in more than 50 cities, with a reported 7,000 people gathering in St Petersburg and up to 4,000 in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, despite the temperature of -20C.

Protesters have promised to gather again in two weeks’ time if the Kremlin refuses to annul the result, which was confirmed by the election commission on Friday.

Peskov said: “In the past few days, we also witnessed demonstrations by other segments of the population who were supporting those results.” United Russia is rallying supporters for a protest on Monday in support of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev, seen as politically irrelevant since Putin announced his intention to return to the presidency, took to his Facebook page to say that vote violations would be investigated.

“I do not agree with the slogans or speeches made at the protests,” Medvedev wrote. “Nonetheless, I have given the instruction to investigate all messages from polling stations related to the following of electoral law.” The message – which did not say which state body would carry out the investigation, the time limit or potential consequences – provoked thousands of mocking comments within minutes.

“Dmitry Anatolievich, are you kidding? There were no elections! There was ballot stuffing!” wrote one user.

“This is called separation from reality – you need to see a psychiatrist,” wrote another.

The Kremlin has been struggling to come to terms with its new politically active population. State-run television covered the protests, departing from its usual pro-government propaganda.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov wrote in his blog: “I am happy – 10 December 2011 will go down in history as the day the country’s civic virtue and civil society was revived. After 10 years of hibernation, Moscow and all Russia woke up.”

Officials, however, continue to attempt to portray the protesters as traitors, following Putin’s charge that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, prompted the show of discontent.

Alexander Isayev, a United Russia Duma deputy, tweeted: “A reminder that on Monday at 4pm on Manezh Square, there will be a demonstration by supporters of Putin and Medvedev – those who love Russia and don’t want revolutionary turmoil.”

Dmitry Gudkov, a member of Just Russia, a Kremlin-created opposition party that won 64 seats in the Duma, said members of the party were trying to negotiate with the Communists, the largest opposition party in the Duma, to force a new vote.

The unprecedented show of discontent comes just three months before a presidential election that is expected to sweep Putin back into the Kremlin . However, the Levada Centre, an independent Russian pollster, says the prime minister’s approval rating fell to a 35% low in October.

Adygeya Republic Head Nominated For Second Term

Caucasus Report

Adygeya’s Aslan Tkhakushinov at his swearing-in ceremony in Maikop in 2007

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has nominated Aslan Tkhakushinov to serve a second term as Republic of Adygeya head, ignoring requests by several prominent opposition figures to replace him. Whether Medvedev’s decision was prompted by the higher-than-average vote in Adygeya (61 percent) for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in the December 4 State Duma elections, as the Russian daily “Kommersant” has suggested, is debatable, however.

Tkhakushinov, 64, is a former rector of the Maikop State Technological University. He was named republic head in December 2006, succeeding gold magnate Khazret Sovmen, who complained in his valedictory address that all his efforts to crack down on corruption and entrenched economic and bureaucratic interests ran up against a brick wall, and that much of the money he invested in trying to galvanize the region’s economy was embezzled.

A largely Slav-populated and predominantly agricultural enclave within Krasnodar Krai, Adygeya has remained an oasis of peace and stability on the northwestern fringe of the turbulent North Caucasus — which may account for the decision in January 2010 to leave it in the Southern Federal District, rather than include it in the new North Caucasus Federal District headed by Aleksandr Khloponin.

Statistical data suggest that Tkhakushinov has presided over a modest economic upswing. The percentage of the republic’s annual budget covered by subsidies from the federal budget has reportedly decreased by over 10 percent in recent years, from 61 percent to 49 percent; officially registered unemployment has fallen by more than half, from 4.4 to 1.9 percent; and since 2007, Adygeya has attracted 51 billion rubles ($1.625 billion) in investment.

Strong Opposition

Tkhakushinov’s detractors paint a very different picture, however. In an open letter addressed to Medvedev last month, they claim that real unemployment in Adygeya is rising, and the exodus of young people in search of work is now so great that it “poses a threat to social stability.” They claim that a mass protest demonstration is being organized in Maikop, the republican capital.

For good measure, they also argue that relations between Adygeya and the neighboring regions of Krasnodar Krai, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Kabardino-Balkaria have worsened dramatically over the past four years. And, crucially, they allege that Tkhakushinov’s health is so precarious following the heart surgery he underwent this summer that he is still physically incapable of discharging his duties. They therefore urge Medvedev to replace him.

They also target for criticism Tkhakushinov’s nephew, republican Prime Minister Murat Kumpilov, who served as acting republic head while Tkhakushinov was hospitalized. They claim Kumpilov resorted to intimidation, harassment, and blackmail to strengthen his position on the assumption he would shortly be named to succeed Tkhakushinov. (In a departure from normal practice, Kumpilov, not Tkhakushinov, headed the Adygeya list of United Russia candidates in the recent State Duma elections.)

Signatories to the letter include Iskhak Mashbash, a respected writer and chairman of Adygeya’s Public Chamber; Ruslan Khadzhibiyokov, who represents Adygeya in the Federation Council; former Adygeya parliament speaker Anatoly Ivanov; Mukharby Tkharkakhov, who served from 1997 to 2001 as Adygeya’s prime minister; and former Teuchezh district head Rashid Mugu. Khadzhibiyokov and Tkharkakhov were among six alternative candidates to Tkhakushinov in 2006. That Ivanov, a Russian, should have signed along with the Circassians is worthy of note: the Circassians resisted for months Tkhakushinov’s efforts in 2007-08 to have Ivanov named parliament speaker.

In addition to that collective appeal, Mashbash sent a separate letter to Medvedev    accusing Tkhakushinov of indifference to the social needs of the population; encouraging a cult of his own personality; and selecting candidates for government posts on the basis of kinship and regional ties rather than professional competence. Mashbash claims that as a result, Tkhakushinov has forfeited the trust and respect of the republic’s population.

Predictably, Tkhakushinov’s press spokesman Ilyas Bedanokov downplayed the criticisms of his boss and dismissed outright as “totally absurd” the allegation that Tkhakushinov’s failing health makes it impossible for him to remain in office. He claimed the republic’s current leadership enjoyed overwhelming popular support.

In the absence of reliable opinion polls, it is impossible to gauge the true extent of popular antipathy to Tkhakushinov, although the vote in the republic’s parliament to endorse his nomination will indicate the state of his relations with the new legislature elected in March. That vote is scheduled for December 12.

But “Rossiiskaya gazeta” predicts that even if some of the 40 members of the United Russia faction in the republic’s parliament vote against Tkhakushinov, he is still likely to garner the minimum 50 percent of the total 56 votes needed to secure a further term.



Tens of thousands rally in Russia vote protest

Tens of thousands of people streamed into central Moscow on Saturday to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent their anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place across the country, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Some 7,000 people rallied in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, police said.

But by far the biggest show of dissent took place in Moscow, where police said around 25,000 people gathered peacefully in driving sleet at Bolotnaya Square, a short walk from the Kremlin. Organizers put the crowd at nearer to 40,000. There were no arrests, police said.

Demonstrators shouted ‘Putin out!” and “Putin is a thief!” and also “Give us back our elections!”

United Russia saw its share of the vote fall sharply in the December 4 polls, although it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority. But opposition activists claim the party’s real figures were much lower.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election was marked by a “lack of fairness” and “slanted” in favor of United Russia. The Russian electoral commission has said the vote was fair and valid, though President Dmitry Medvedev has said accusations of cheating must be investigated.

“We demand new elections because what happened on December 4 was a falsification,” opposition activist Yevgeniya Chirikova told the crowd, before leading them in a sustained chant of “Thieves and Swindlers!” a reference to United Russia’s popular, unofficial nickname.

The man who created that moniker, influential blogger and anti-graft campaigner Alexei Navalny, was on Tuesday sentenced to 15 days imprisonment for his part in a protest earlier this week. One of the biggest cheers of the day met the reading of a letter he had written from behind bars.

‘To struggle for freedom is sweet,” Navalny’s letter said. “Every one of us has the most powerful and only weapon we need – a sense of our own worthiness.”

Navalny also accused Putin and United Russia of manipulating voters into believing that the price for stability and economic growth was “to live like mute cattle.”

“They fed us that for 12 years,” his letter went on. “And we are sick of it. We are not slaves and we are not cattle. It’s time to wake up from our slumber!”

Protesters appeared to come from all walks of life, with groups of teenagers mingling with pensioners and young families.

“I’m 53 years old, and this is the first time I’ve been on a protest,” lawyer Sergei Levin said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen next – but we have to change something.”

“We’re all fed up with Putin and United Russia,” said a Moscow student who only gave his name as Ruslan. “But the most important thing we will take from this rally is that we all know now we are not alone.”

Andrei Isayev, first deputy secretary of United Russia’s general council presidium, told RIA-Novosti that the authorities would “listen” to the protesters.

“There is no doubt that people protesting against the result of the vote or against the way it was handled have a right to do this,” Isayev said. But he also urged the demonstrators not to “become pawns in the hand of those who would destroy our country.”

Putin on Thursday accused the United States of supporting the protests and giving an encouraging “signal” to opposition leaders.

Putin had also warned that police would crack down on illegal demonstrations and there was a heavy security presence around both Bolotnaya Square and at the more central Revolution Square, where the protest was originally set to go ahead.

But there were no reports of trouble and a soft-handed police force – including large numbers of the notorious Omon riot squad – even allowed a group of several hundred radical activists led by writer and opposition firebrand Eduard Limonov to go ahead with an illegal protest.

The tactics were a marked change from the handling of demonstrations earlier in the week, in which police detained some 1,000 people across the country, and from the way riot police have unceremoniously snuffed out political protests in past years.

In another striking change, state-run television networks which had largely ignored earlier poll protests gave significant airtime to the rallies on Saturday.

The main Channel One evening news broadcast led with the Moscow demonstration, even if its coverage was upbeat and made no mention of sentiments critical of Putin or United Russia that were voiced at the protests.

Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov called for a new rally on December 24, if the Kremlin refuses to call new elections.

“People have woken up,” demonstrator Irina Popova said as the Moscow rally came to an end.

“In the past, one or two thousand people turned up to protest rallies, but just look at how many people there are here today. A lot of people have come to a demonstration for the first time – and not the last, I guess.”

South Ossetian Presidential Aspirant Says Moscow Unaware Of Real Situation

The disqualified winner of the presidential election in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia says Russian leaders are unaware of the real situation in that Caucasus territory, RFE/RL’s Echo of the Caucasus Service reports.

Alla Dzhioyeva, a surprise winner of the vote count over a Kremlin-backed candidate in a November 27 election annulled by a South Ossetian court, told RFE/RL on December 9 that her call this week for “The Front To Support Vladimir Putin” in next year’s Russian presidential election was done with the intention to “unite people on both sides of the barricades.”

“I just wanted to show [to the Russian leadership] that our people — not those who can be easily directed, but those who can stand firmly and have the vision, the strategic goals — will always be united with Russia in its strategic goals,” Dzhioyeva said.

She added that Putin therefore “looks like a significant figure for us.”

Dzhioyeva added that she does not understand Russia’s reluctance to support her. She said it is more likely that the politicians and political advisers involved in South Ossetia are not giving complete and accurate information to the Kremlin regarding the situation in the region.

Dzhioyeva said that in a recent speech Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mentioned that problems between local clans should not be used in the political rivalry in South Ossetia.

“I fully reject those accusations [of Medvedev],” she said. “Certainly there is the clan for [outgoing South Ossetian President Eduard] Kokoity, but there is no clan of Dzhioyeva because I have always been above those narrow issues, I have always been cherishing democratic values, and I will always be longing for them.”

Dzhioyeva added that her rival Kokoity’s description of her supporters’ rallies as an “Orange Revolution” — a reference to the Western-oriented protests that defeated a flawed Ukrainian election in 2004 — is baseless. She said her supporters and the people of South Ossetia are doing their best to defend their constitutional right to have a choice.

“We have just one argument [that we are fighting for] and that is the people of South Ossetia,” Dzhioyeva said.

Dzhioyeva’s supporters have been rallying against the Supreme Court decision to invalidate the presidential election in which preliminary polls showed Dzhioyeva was winning.

Parliament later set a new date for a rerun presidential election and it barred Dzhioyeva from taking part. She rejected the decision as “political” and said she would set up her own parallel government.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Russia recognized it as an independent state following a brief war with Georgia in 2008, something that five other countries have also since done.

Most South Ossetians also have Russian citizenship.

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