Vladimir Putin calls Russia’s protesters ‘paid agents of the west’

The Russian PM holds his annual QA session with Russian voters, following street protests over his rule and alleged election fraud Link to this video

Vladimir Putin dismissed the thousands of protesters who have massed against his rule as agents of the west in his first response to the growing discontent during a marathon phone-in show.

Putin repeatedly mocked the protesters on Thursday, by comparing the symbol of their discontent – a white ribbon – to condoms. “Regarding ‘colour revolutions’, everything is clear – this is a developed scheme to destabilise society that did not rise up on its own,” he said at the start of a televised QA that ran for more than four and a half hours.

He said students had been paid to turn out on Bolotnaya Square last weekend, when an unprecedented 50,000 people gathered to protest against disputed elections and Putin’s rule. “Frankly, when I looked at the television screen and saw something hanging from someone’s chest, honestly, it’s indecent, but I decided that it was propaganda to fight Aids – that they were wearing, pardon me, a condom,” Putin said. Protesters have adopted the symbol to express their opposition to the parliamentary election, which saw Putin’s United Russia party gather nearly 50% of the vote despite widespread allegations of fraud.

Putin dismissed the allegations, calling them a tool for the opposition to gain power. “The opposition will always claim that [the elections] were dishonest – this happens in all countries,” he said.

He did not address protesters’ demands for a recount of the election result, or an annulment. Protesters have promised to gather for a second major demonstration on Christmas Eve and have begun focusing on building the movement ahead of a 4 March election, which is widely expected to return Putin to the presidency.

Putin repeatedly used the marathon call-in show as a platform for his presidential promises, promising to increase pensions, hand out housing to military officers and protect Russia from undefined enemies.

He lashed out several times at the US, further putting into doubt the much touted “reset” in relations between the two countries. “We would like to be allies with the United States,” he said. “It seems to me that America doesn’t need allies, but vassal states.”

“People are tired of the dictates of one country,” he said. He said the US continued to fear Russia’s size and nuclear arsenal and lashed out at Senator John McCain, who recently said Russia’s protests were a sign that the Arab Spring had reached Russia. “Mr McCain fought in Vietnam – he has enough civilian blood on his hands,” Putin said.

He also saved choice words for London, saying that oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, embroiled in a high court lawsuit, should have met in a Russian court instead. “That would be more honest – for them and for our country,” Putin said. “The money was made and stolen here – let them divvy it up here too.”

Addressing growing criticism, Putin consistently shifted the blame to outside actors. One caller asked him to respond to a photograph that appeared in Kommersant Vlast magazine last week, showing a spoiled election ballot from London that was scrawled with a curse-laden insult directed at Putin.

“There’s nothing new here,” Putin said again. “I remember in the early 2000s, when we were actively fighting terrorism in the north Caucasus, there was nothing that I didn’t hear or see – especially, of course, from our western partners.”

“Regarding this inscription, as far as I remember, it was made on a ballot in London,” Putin said. “We know who gathered in London and why they don’t return to Russia.” A host of Russian oligarchs and dissidents have fled to London since Putin first came to power 12 years ago, including Berezovsky, the Kremlin’s favoured scapegoat.

Putin paid lip service to “developing democracy” but offered few concrete examples. Instead, he praised the government’s growing strength: “Let it go a little bit and many will understand what real difficulties are.” Putin has built his reputation on promises of stability, hinting that chaos would reign without his rule.

One man glaringly absent from Putin’s answers was Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president. Putin only mentioned him once during the nearly 300-minute long spectacle, prompting many observers to question whether the outgoing president would be able to follow through with his planned job swap with Putin. Yet Putin devoted more time to praising his longtime ally Alexei Kudrin, who was fired as finance minister earlier this year.

The Putin Show And The Kremlin Shuffle

The Power Vertical

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks to journalists after a televised questions and answers session in Moscow on December 15.

The great post-election shuffle continues. Where it will end nobody knows.

Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin resigned today to take a seat in the State Duma, where he is widely expected to be elected speaker. Naryshkin will likely replace outgoing speaker Boris Gryzlov, who announced on Wednesday that he will not be returning to the lower house. (Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Gryzlov.)

Stepping in to replace Naryshkin — at least temporarily — will be Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff, grey cardinal, and the regime’s unofficial ideologist. The promotion will put Surkov in an unusual spot. He has served in the Kremlin of every post-Soviet president, albeit he always exerted his considerable influence in the shadows as a deputy chief of staff whose actual influence exceeded his official title. Now he’s coming into the light, sort of.

Other than that, it’s unclear what this Kremlin/Duma re-shuffle is supposed to accomplish.

After United Russia’s disappointing showing in the disputed December 4 elections, Gryzlov — the highest ranking party official after Vladimir Putin — probably had to fall on his sword. And the loyal and competent Naryshkin is a logical replacement.

But what we essentially are seeing here is a game of musical chairs among Putin loyalists, and this actually illustrates the regime’s dilemma perfectly. They clearly prefer to continue on with the status quo, which an increasingly restive society considers unacceptable.

In the post-December 4 environment, Russia’s Team Putin has found itself in a bind.

They can crack down and try to shut down the growing protest movement in its infancy — and risk greater instability, capital flight, and an even angrier public. This crew can be ruthless, but they probably don’t have the stomach for that. It’s also not at all clear that they have the resources or the consensus among the elite to pull it off.

Or they can take a stab at political reform. But they know very well that this can easily slip out of their control (see Gorbachev, Mikhail). Actually following through with a true political liberalization would eventually spell the end of the current regime.

So what they are left with are cosmetic changes around the margins that will satisfy nobody. This was on vivid display during Putin’s televised live call-in program today.

The annual ritual took on an added significance this year and was supposed to showcase the new Putin, the one who understands he is in a new political environment. What it was, instead, was a tirade of contradictions and half-measures.

He praised the protestors, saying he was “pleased” to see “young, active people formulating their opinions” and even tried to take credit for the newfound civic activism. “If this is the result of the Putin regime, then that’s good!” he said. (Actually, as I have blogged here and here, it is — but probably not in the way Putin meant.)

But he couldn’t just leave it at that. He also couldn’t resist ridiculing and mocking the demonstrators, saying the white ribbons they wear resemble condoms and suggesting they were being paid to take to the streets.

In an animated answer about alleged electoral fraud, Putin insisted the election results reflected the will of the voters and suggested placing webcams in polling places.

He also proposed a convoluted “reform” of the selecting governors that would involve the party controlling regional legislatures nominating candidates for the president’s approval. The approved candidate would then face voters in a popular referendum.

And so the drama continues and next week promises to be just as interesting as the past two. Anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny and Solidarity leader Ilya Yashin get out of jail on December 20 after serving their 15-day sentences. The new Duma convenes on December 21. President Dmitry Medvedev makes his state-of-the-nation speech on December 22. And mass protests are planned for Moscow and other cities December 24.

So hold onto your hats. This promises to be a wild ride.   

— Brian Whitmore


Vladimir Putin

Boris Gryzlov

Vladislav Surkov

Sergei Naryshkin

2012 Presidential elections

Page 2 acquires list of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s Russian presidency campaign promises

Sasha Mordovets / Getty ImagesMikhail Prokhorov has some big ideas on tap for his campaign for the Russian presidency.

Russian billionaire and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov recently announced he’ll be running for president of Russia against Vladimir Putin next year. Our inside sources at the Kremlin have helped us gather a preliminary list of campaign promises Prokhorov is expected to make.

1. If elected President of Russia, I vow to move the entire nation at least fifteen miles North, where beautiful, fresh sod will be planted and life will be better for all.

2. I promise to work tirelessly to deliver a center who will average at least eight rebounds a game and relieve the low-post burden from the little people.

3. I will pass a constitutional amendment that says that once I mortgage the future to obtain a superstar, that superstar will be unable to escape to more desirable lands until well past his prime.

4. Once elected, I can assure you that our nation will have a T-shirt gun army to protect our citizens from boredom.

5. Read my lips: “No new luxury taxes!”

6. I fully support anyone joining the Occupy Red Square movement — but only for 24 seconds.

7. Our new energy program will consist of tiny generators inside of each basketball that delivers 1 kilowatt of power for every 30 dribbles.

8. Crimes will now be referred to as “fouls.” Violent crimes are “technical fouls.”

9. Immigration to Russia will be limited to anyone over 6-foot-5 with a killer cross-over.

10. I will have the number 8 retired. And when I say “retired” I mean you will no longer be permitted to even write that number in your checkbook.

Now please welcome my Czar of Gangly, Andrei Kirilenko!

Mobile phone footage shows fake ballots

Mobile phone footage shows extra ballots at polling stations being added to the parliamentary election count. As the president, Dmitry Medvedev, and the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, move to calm the growing tension, Moscow residents give their view. Protesters have promised to gather again in two weeks’ time if the Kremlin refuses to annul the result.

Mikhail Prokhorov stands for Russian president

The industrial tycoon and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team has announced he will run as an independent in the 2012 Russian presidential elections, though there is scepticism that the whole scenario is being stage-managed by the Kremlin to channel dissent away from Putin

Moscow government to lay groundwork for new financial center

President Medvedev has ordered the government to get to work on turning Moscow into a global financial center.

The main aim of the program is to make the Russian financial market more accessible to foreign institutions – first off, by cutting red tape. For example, foreign companies will not need to have their documents fully translated into Russian, as before.

The president also suggested expanding the powers of the Federal Service for Financial Markets – so that the officials could fully protect investors’ interests.

Another idea is to establish a structure for collecting information about financial tools and over-the-counter financial transactions. The Bank of Russia is to come up with suggestions on creating a liquid futures market for major commodities exports produced in the country.

Additionally, Medvedev ordered amendments to securities legislation, making sure Russians have the opportunity to independently issue debt securities to be traded on foreign markets.

Medvedev said he wants to see concrete results by March, emphasizing that it is mainly Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s responsibility to ensure the job gets done on time.

Seeing that Russia lacks its own investors, analysts say, foreign investors will not make the choice of coming to Moscow. Without investors, meanwhile, there will be no one to buy the securities of the major players.

“Russia’s main problem is a lack of domestic investor base,” Aleksandr Abramov, a professor in the Stock Market and Investments Department of the Higher School of Economics, told the Rossiyskaya newspaper. “This is why foreign investors will continue choosing New York or London over the Russian trading platforms.”

Other specialists, however, say that the reform has bright prospects, as the changes already made by the government are bearing fruit.

“Some things are slowly but surely changing in the right direction,” chief economic of Deutsche Bank Russia, Yaroslav Lissovolik, told RT. “Thanks to the right measures, Russia’s stock market is becoming more attractive. Even Ukraine started using the Russian ruble – to pay for gas deliveries.”

This year, Moscow ranked 61st in the Global Financial Centers Index – that’s an improvement from 2010, when it held the 68th position.

Obama insists on indefinite detention of Americans

Think that President Obama will stand by his word and veto the legislation that will allow the government to detain American citizens without charge or trial? Think again.

The Obama administration has insisted that the president will veto the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, a bill that passed through the Senate last week. Under the legislation, the United States of America is deemed a battlefield and Americans suspected of committing a terrorism offense can be held without trial and tortured indefinitely. Despite the grave consequences for citizens and the direct assault on the US Constitution, the act managed to make it through both halves of Congress but President Obama says he won’t let it become a law.

According to Senator Carl Levin, however, Americans should be a bit more concerned about what the president’s actual intentions are. Levin, who sits on the Armed Services Committee as chairman, has revealed to Congress that the Obama administration influenced the wording of the act and shot down text that would have saved American citizens from the indefinite imprisonment and suspension of habeas corpus.

(Click image above for video of Senator Levin’s speech)

Senator Levin told Congress recently that under the original wording of the National Defense Authorization Act, American citizens were excluded from the provision that allowed for detention. Once Obama’s officials saw the text though, says Levin, “the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.”

Specifically, the section that Obama asked to be reworded was Section 1031 of the NDAA FY2012, which says that “any person who has committed a belligerent act” could be held indefinitely.

“It was the administration that asked us to remove the very language which we had in the bill which passed the committee…we removed it at the request of the administration,” said Levin. “It was the administration which asked us to remove the very language the absence of which is now objected to.”

John Wood of Change.org writes that President Obama proposed a veto of Section 1032 of the NDAA, which does not pertain to the detention of American citizens. Rather, that section deals with the use of the US military in taking custody of suspected criminals. Section 1031, which actually deals with the indefinite imprisonment of Americans, remains not only unopposed by the Obama administration, but the president has made sure that the law specifically includes Americans, urging Congress to redraft the legislation with increasingly confusing wording that makes the legalization detrimental to America.

President Obama could sign off on the legislation as early as this December 13 if he chooses not to exercise his veto power. The bill, which includes budgetary provisions for the US military, comes at a price-tag several billion dollars cheaper than the president had asked for of Congress.

Profile: Mikhail Prokhorov

Mikhail Prokhorov was born on May 3, 1965 in Moscow and is a Russian self-made billionaire. He made his name in the financial sector and went on to become one of Russia’s leading industrialists in the precious metals sector. In the summer of 2011 he led the Right Cause party. On December 12, 2011, Prokhorov said is planning to run for president in 2012.

Prokhorov graduated from the Russian Government Finance University in 1989, before joining the International Bank for Economic Cooperation, serving in a managerial position until 1992. He was briefly head of the board of International Finance Company (MFK) before managing the acquisition of Norilsk Nickel by Onexim Bank, of which he was then chairman. Prokhorov overhauled the company, selling off most of its non-mining assets and creating Polyus Gold from its gold assets.

In May 2007, Prokohorov launched a $17 billion private investment fund, Onexim Group, focused on the development of nanotechnology, including hydrogen fuel cells, as well as other high-technology projects and non-ferrous and precious metals mining. One of the fund’s key areas of development is the production of materials with ultra–tiny structures used in energy generation and medicine.

Prokhorov sold his 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel to aluminium producer Rusal in April 2008, in return for a large cash payment and 14% of Rusal stock. Just a few months later the Russian stock market crashed and Russian companies found their market value decreasing rapidly. Although Prokhorov’s wealth was dented by the exposure of his other assets, he weathered the crisis much better than most of his fellow businessmen.

In September 2008 Prokhorov’s Onexim Group purchased a fifty percent stake (minus one) in Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital.

Mikhail Prokhorov’s net worth was estimated at $18 billion by Forbes magazine in 2011. This makes him the third richest man in Russia and the 32nd richest man in the world.

In 2008 Prokhorov launched Snob, a Russian-language magazine and community in collaboration with Vladimir Yakovlev, founder of Kommersant. The project, which has since expanded into other international markets includes a Russian language magazine and online discussion space.

Prokhorov has supported a number of cultural and sporting institutions in Russia, including Moscow-based CSKA basketball, hockey and football clubs. In 2004 he founded the Cultural Initiatives Foundation, run by his sister Irina.

In May 2010 he became the first non-American to own a National Basketball Association (NBA) club, when he bought an 80% stake in the New Jersey Nets.

In May 2011, rumors circulated that Prokhorov was a likely candidate to head the Right Cause party. Pro-Kremlin in outlook, the party’s top job was previously turned down by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

In June 2011, Prokhorov was made leader of the Right Cause party. He threw his weight and considerable financial resources behind the party’s campaigning ahead of December 2011 State Duma elections, but was ousted from his position in September 2011 after a coup within the party. In the wake of his departure from the party he indicated that he still has political ambitions, but will not run in 2011 State Duma elections.

On December 12, 2011, Prokhorov said he is planning to run for president in 2012.

Russian billionaire challenges Putin for Kremlin

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced on Monday that he would challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the upcoming presidential elections next March.

In order to register, Prokhorov needs either to be nominated by any of the existing seven registered political parties or needs to collect 2 million signatures in support of his bid. The billionaire added that he has opted for the latter choice. Putin, the main contender for this top post, has been nominated by his ruling United Russia party.

Prokhorov said Monday that he had never discussed his presidential ambition with the country’s leaders. Last week, Prokhorov wrote in his LiveJournal blog that Putin is Russia’s only viable option for Russia’s next president.

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

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.

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.”

The tycoon also 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.

Kudrin said in the interview published Monday that Russia needs a new liberal party and cast himself as its potential leader.

The massive protests following the December 4 State Duma elections demonstrate the popular demand for a liberal alternative, said Prokhorov. In this, he concurred with Surkov who also said that the protests highlight the lack of a party that would reflect interests of the urban educated middle class.

Meanwhile, Putin has remained quiet after the public protests in Moscow on Saturday, attended by tens of thousands of people. The protesters called for the dismissal and prosecution of election officials, unregistered political parties to be allowed to participate in the race, to cancel the results of the earlier vote and to order new elections.

President Dmitry Medvedev who dismissed these demands in his Facebook post late Sunday has been receiving angry remarks from bloggers through most of Monday. The post gathered a record 12,500 comments, many of which assailed Medvedev for dismissing the main demand, for fair elections, voiced by the protesters.

The United Russia party gathered a rally of its supporters in central Moscow on Monday, official figures say 25,000 people attended, critics say the figure was closer to 15,000 or less. 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!”

In the meantime, a member of the United Russia and famous sociologist studying Russia’s elite, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, set up a group in the country’s most popular Vkontakte social network, calling to investigate vote fraud on Dec. 4.

The governor of the Vologda region, Vyacheslav Pozgalev, resigned from his post Monday, citing his own failure to win popular trust. United Russia collected 33.4 percent of the vote in the region, one of the lowest results in Russia for the ruling party. Medvedev and Putin said after the vote that governors of the regions where the ruling party had fared particularly poor might be fired from their posts.

Billionaire Prokhorov Announces Kremlin Bid, As Kudrin Calls For Liberal Party

One of Russia’s richest men and the architect of an abortive bid this year to launch a center-right political party, billionaire playboy Mikhail Prokhorov, now says he will challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in next year’s presidential election.

Prokhorov called the move “the most important decision in my life.”

“I’m going to run for president,” he announced to journalists.

Prokhorov, who controls the Polys Gold metals mining company, was ranked as one of Russia’s top five billionaires by “Forbes” magazine and was estimated to have a fortune of $18 billion in 2010.

Prokhorov is the former leader of the business-oriented Right Cause party, which finished with less than 1 percent of the vote in last week’s parliamentary elections. Prokhorov resigned from the party in September.

“As you remember, the Kremlin removed me and my comrades from Right Cause and we could not accomplish what we wanted. It is not my habit to stop halfway,” Prokhorov told reporters in announcing his presidential bid.

Kudrin Calls For Liberal Party

Putin has long been Russia’s most popular politician, but was forced under the constitution to stand down in 2008 after two consecutive terms as president. He recently announced his plan to run in the March presidential election.

Meanwhile, former Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a longtime Putin ally, has called for the creation of a liberal party to fill a void in Russian politics after the recent parliamentary voting.

“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.”

Tens of thousands of Russians protested on December 10 over the outcome of the December 4 parliamentary elections that the opposition says were rigged in favor of the ruling United Russia party.

More protests are planned, and the Kremlin has made some concessions — at least symbolic ones — in the face of mounting questions about the voting.

Observers say Kudrin’s proposal could offer a way for Putin to channel discontent.

Kudrin also warned that the legitimacy of a presidential election Putin is expected to win in March would be undermined by any failure to address protesters’ allegations of fraud in the parliamentary elections.

Kudrin’s comments came in an interview with “Vedomosti.”

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports

Prokhorov … for president … of Russia?

Mikhail Prokhorov, one of Russia’s richest tycoons and the owner of the Nets basketball team, said Monday he will run against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March presidential election.

Prokhorov, whose wealth the Forbes magazine has estimated at $18 billion, has been cautious not to cross Putin’s path in the past. But the tycoon’s candidacy may now pose a serious challenge to Putin, whose authority has been dented by his party’s poor showing in Russia’s Dec. 4 parliamentary election and allegations of widespread fraud during the balloting.

Putin’s party only won about 50 percent of that vote, compared to 64 percent four years ago, and the fraud allegations have allowed opposition parties to successfully mount massive anti-Putin protests in Russia.

“The society is waking up,” Prokhorov said at the news conference he held in Moscow to announce his candidacy. “Those authorities who will fail to establish a dialogue with the society will have to go.”

To read the full news story, click here.

US betrayal of Palestine puts damper on Arab Spring

While the Arab Spring has brought winds of positive change, the destiny of the whole region now hangs on the issue of Palestine, insists politician Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian MP and the president of the Palestinian National Initiative.

­Currently, the Palestinian bid for statehood is deadlocked with the US obstructing a UN Security Council vote on the issue. America’s pressure appears to be bearing fruit – on the other hand, European governments cannot be seen to be going against their own people, whose sympathies lie with Palestine.

Even if a Security Council vote goes ahead, the Palestinian bid is certain not to get the necessary two-thirds it needs to pass, because of “the US being capable of pressuring countries, Israel being able to pressure world leaders, and because of the hypocrisy of Western politics,” Barghouti says.

“They speak about the freedom of the Syrian people and respect for human rights in Libya, but they fail to recognize that this is also needed for Palestine,” says the Palestinian politician.

Mustafa Barghouti believes the Israelis are very concerned that if Palestine becomes an equal partner on the international stage, it will assume the right to appeal to the International Criminal Court and “that is probably the main reason why they [Israelis] are trying to obstruct our membership in the UN. Why? Because they know they’ve committed war crimes and many of their army officers have committed crimes against humanity.”

High hopes of US support for Palestine’s bid for statehood were replaced with a stab in the back when Barack Obama strongly denounced the bid, despite past insistence that Palestine should become a UN member by November 2011.

“We see it as a great failure of an American president who failed to respect his own words,” Barghouti says. “And now he is leading a war against our membership.”

Barghouti deplores the fact that the actions of the US administration and Congress are in total contradiction of the principles they lecture the rest of the world about – respect for human rights, including the right to self-determination, and the principles of freedom.

Attitudes to Palestine are a litmus test for every country’s commitment to democratic values, Mustafa  Barghouti says, and the price to be paid for Barack Obama breaking his word has been the US losing its position as a mediator in the Middle East peace process.

Mustafa Barghouti says he regrets the expenditure of the member countries of the Middle East Quartet on the peace process, because that money is spent in vain.

On the other hand, Palestine needs national unity and the reconciliation of the Fatah and Hamas movements. Members of both organizations are ready but “what they need to see is courage of their leaders taking action that would put the Palestinian national interest above their factional and partisan interests.”

Mustafa Barghouti argues that the political sympathies of the Israeli population have shifted to the right because the Israeli public is benefiting from the occupation and a de facto apartheid system.

“Israel is killing the last opportunity for a two-state solution,” he says, “which means they will have to deal with the only remaining solution which is a one-state solution.”

That, Barghouti explains, would mean Israel ceasing to be a Jewish state and becoming a country in which Jews no longer even constitute the majority.

Tough times are pushing both the American and Israeli leaderships to seek a military conflict, possibly with Iran. Tel-Aviv is definitely looking for such an opportunity, preferably with America spearheading hostilities, and Israel joining the war later.

“They [Israel] want to become a super regional power,” argues Barghouti, “I do not think they will succeed.”

The politician believes that US policy has deprived it of key allies in the Middle East – Iran, Egypt and Turkey – and this will change the whole situation in the region. 

Palestine remains the last obstacle to positive change in the Middle East, but as the populations of countries touched by the Arab Spring support the Palestinian cause, “the future of the stability and peace of this region, economic development and co-operation, is directly related to solving the Palestinian issue.”

A Just Russia nominates pro-Kremlin Mironov for president

The center-left A Just Russia party decided to nominate its leader Sergei Mironov as a candidate for the presidency, the party’s Duma faction leader Nikolay Levichev said on Saturday.

“We will fight for access to the second round [of the presidential elections] and we hope to win in the second round,” Levichev said. The second phase of A Just Russia congress takes place in Moscow on Saturday. The main issue on the agenda is the nomination of the presidential candidate. He also noted that the congress will discuss the outcome of parliamentary elections. The ruling United Russia party won Sunday’s State Duma elections with 49.3 percent of the vote.

This is the second presidential campaign for Mironov, he already took part in the presidential elections in Russia in 2004, stating that he supports the other candidate, the incumbent president, Vladimir Putin. As a result of the elections, Mironov took the last place with 0.75 percent of the vote.

Mironov, who in May lost his job as speaker of the upper house of parliament, has emphasized that the main points of the party’s election program include measures to tackle poverty and corruption in Russia as well as the ongoing struggle against the monopoly of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.


Kazakh President Rejects ‘People’s Hero’ Award

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said he would refuse to accept the “People’s Hero” award but said he had no objection to December 1 being marked as the “Day of the First President of Kazakhstan.”

At the end of November, Kazakhstan’s government approved a proposal to present Nazarbaev with the award when Kazakhstan marks 20 years of independence on December 16.

Speaking to reporters, Nazarbaev said he would not sign the bill on that.

Asked about making December 1 first president’s day, Nazarbaev, who is Kazakhstan’s first president, said he was not against the idea.

Nazarbaev made the remarks on a visit to the new teleradio complex in the capital Astana.

compiled from agency reports

Russian, U.S. presidents donate wheelchairs to Kyrgyz disabled children

About 200 Kyrgyz disabled children received wheelchairs from Russian and U.S. presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama.


Medvedev ordered to send advanced technical equipment to 50 disabled children in Kyrgyzstan after President Roza Otunbayeva asked for help.


Washington also responded by sending about 100 wheelchairs.


“Russia and the United States can do a lot for peace. This project allows to facilitate this cooperation,” Otunbayeva, who is no longer the president of the Central Asian republic said.


Each wheelchair costs around $1,500.


Prokhorov sees no alternative to Putin, urges ruling party reform

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said in his blog he saw no alternative to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president but called for an overhaul of the premier’s United Russia party.

Putin, who is a candidate in presidential elections next March, has seen his popularity decline due to allegations of vote fraud in December 4 parliamentary elections that have prompted street protests.

“The majority of our people think the elections were unfair, and many did not vote because they think there is no one to vote for,” Prokhorov said in his LiveJournal blog. “But whether they like it or not, Putin is so far the only figure who can manage this inefficient state machine.”

Prokhorov, number 32 on Forbes 2011 list of the world’s richest people, was elected leader of the Right Cause party in June 2011. He quit two months later, charging that the Kremlin was bent on controlling the party.

In his blog entry, the tycoon warned against a revolution, saying that Russian revolutions have historically cost lives and led to a drop in living standards.

“Both society and the authorities have a long way to go toward each other. But I don’t see any other way and do not wish it for my country,” the 46-year-old billionaire said.

Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team, said United Russia needs reforms that should be carried out by the man who led the party in the latest elections, President Dmitry Medvedev.

“As leader of the [United Russia] ticket, Medvedev could run the Duma effectively and make it a scene for debate and the center of legislative initiative,” Prokhorov said.

In the runup to the presidential polls, Prokhorov suggested that the number of signatures candidates are required to collect should be reduced 90% and that they be allowed to represent not only parliamentary parties but also public organizations and blocs.

Prokhorov has said he is ready to serve as prime minister, while political observers speculate he may have presidential ambitions.


Medvedev’s missile shield remarks may be election rhetoric

The NATO secretary general said the Russian president’s recent remarks about Russia’s countermeasures against the European missile defense system could be influenced by the parliamentary elections.

The statement is contradictory to remarks by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said on December 1 that his plans to put offensive weapon systems on Russia’s borders to counter a planned European missile shield were not electoral rhetoric but a forced measure.

“It’s a well-known fact that in democracies you have heated debates during electoral campaigns and, of course, I can’t exclude the possibility that recent statements are also influenced by the electoral mood in Russia,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after meeting with foreign ministers of NATO member states.

“But of course we have to take presidential statements seriously,” Rasmussen went on. “And that’s what I do by stressing that I don’t think that such statements are in full accordance with what we decided a year ago in Lisbon when we clearly stated that we want to develop a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.”

He said that he was optimistic about the future of Russia-NATO missile defense talks and the forthcoming Russia-NATO summit in Chicago due in May 2012.

“I hope that we can reach an agreement at the Chicago Summit in May,” Rasmussen said earlier in the day in his doorstep statement.

“It’s a shared interest to protect our populations against a real missile threat, and it would definitely be waste of valuable money if Russia started to invest heavily in counter-measures against an artificial enemy that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Moscow is seeking written, legally binding guarantees that the shield will not be directed against it, Washington, however, has refused to put its verbal assurances in writing.

In his address to the nation on November 23, Medvedev said that if Moscow’s participation in the European missile defense project fails, Russia would deploy Iskander tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad Region and halt its disarmament and arms control efforts, including participation in the new strategic arms reduction treaty with the United States.

Russia’s vote forgers will not go unpunished | Grigory Melkonyants

Having worked for Golos, Russia’s only independent election monitoring organisation, for more than eight years, I never dreamed the president’s administration would engage in an open campaign against our organisation – especially in the week running up to the country’s Duma elections last Sunday.

Since September, in collaboration with Gazeta online newspaper, Golos had been running an online crowdsourced project known as Karta Narusheniy (mapped election violations). This proved hugely popular among Russian internet users: we were flooded with video clips and photographic evidence of various election-related violations.

By 25 November, Karta had become one of the 20 most popular websites on Runet (Russian internet) – along with the state Duma’s website and the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s “Big Government”. It was a thorn in the authorities’ side; its multiple recorded and mapped reports of alleged violations were a huge blotch on the government’s rosy picture of these “fair elections”.

All the same, in the week before the Russian elections, most people here were feeling very pessimistic. The president’s administration had openly interfered in the electoral process: public servants, students and factory workers were forced in their masses to apply for absentee ballots and vote in a certain way at certain polling stations.

The authorities virtually monopolised the media to lend support to the United Russia party, while other parties were prevented from legally promoting themselves. Advertising firms and media outlets not aligned with the state were put under pressure. We know that crowds were recruited to participate in one of the most popular vote-rigging methods: multiple “cruise” voting.

As election day approached, we learned that three incumbent Duma deputies had filed a complaint to the general prosecutor’s office, accusing Golos of sabotaging the elections. Then, last Thursday, our office was raided by officials from the general prosecutor’s office, who accused us of illegally publishing some sociological finding on our website. We were summoned to appear in court the next day – they were clearly in a hurry to shut us down. The case against us included a letter from the central elections committee’s chairman, Vladimir Churov, accusing Golos of “attempting to usurp powers of authority”.

During the trial, the judge never asked a single question related to the matter, while the prosecutor failed to produce any proof of us actually posting unlawful materials on our website. There were numerous journalists present at the trial and many struggled not to burst out laughing, as it wasn’t quite clear what we were being accused of. The judge sentenced us to a fine of 30,000 roubles (£615) – however the sentence hasn’t been enforced yet, and we are going to contest it.

Finally our chairman, returning from a Russia-EU civil rights forum in Warsaw, was held at customs for 12 hours. She was searched and interrogated, and had her laptop seized. Clearly there had been a directive to prevent our centralised accumulation of election violation allegations from across the country.

And there was no shortage of these. The vote rigging was so blatant that on the day of the elections, 4 December, we were simply flooded by allegations. The scope of the rigging was astonishing: throughout the day, numerous accounts of multiple voting emerged, with voters travelling from station to station with absentee ballots, casting several times in a row. Count procedures were reported to have been violated, with observers refused access to verify the count protocols and members of the press forcibly ejected.

But despite the numerous violations, the Russian people’s commitment to these elections was astonishing. Those who previously would have hardly bothered to vote at all became fully fledged citizens, aware of their rights. It doesn’t really matter at this point which party won: the true winners are the voters themselves, whose power will only grow from now on. And though we are worried about further investigations against Golos, we are fully committed to mapping all the election violations. This is vital to understand the scope of what’s happening, to help people voice their concerns. The vote forgers will not go unpunished.

South Ossetia Heads Into Uncharted Constitutional Waters

Caucasus Report

Will Eduard Kokoity seek to stay on as president?

The Supreme Court of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia has upheld its annulment of the outcome of the presidential runoff on November 27, in which opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva defeated the Kremlin’s preferred candidate, South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov.

As a result, the region will technically no longer have a legitimate president after incumbent Eduard Kokoity’s second term expires at midnight on December 7 — unless the Supreme Court rules in the interim to extend Kokoity’s term for several months.

If the court fails to do so, then in line with Article 55:4 of the republic’s constitution, the presidential powers should devolve on the prime minister. That post is currently held by a Russian citizen, Vadim Brovtsev, who has been engaged in a standoff with Kokoity for the past 18 months.

It is therefore likely that the Supreme Court or parliament will try by any means possible to legalize an extension of Kokoity’s term in office. At least some lawmakers, however, would refuse to play along. Deputy parliament speaker Mira Tskhovrebova released a statement on December 6 arguing that Kokoity should honor the choice of the voters who elected Dzhioyeva president and step down immediately in accordance with the constitution.

Supporters of Dzhioyeva, who according to preliminary returns made public on November 28 by the Central Election Commission won the runoff with some 57 percent of the vote, said on December 6 they were withdrawing their original appeal against the annulment of the ballot but would file a new one by December 9.

But even if they do so, it is unlikely that the court would reverse its previous decisions before December 10 — the date that Dzhioyeva’s staff has set for her inauguration as president. In light of the Supreme Court decision upholding the annulment of the vote, any attempt by Dzhioyeva to assume executive power would technically be illegal, and would only substantiate Kokoity’s claims of December 5 that the opposition was trying to perpetrate in South Ossetia a rerun of the 2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

Revolution In The Air?

Such an attempt would, moreover, almost certainly lead to violent clashes between Dzhioyeva’s supporters, hundreds of whom have been camped out in subzero temperatures in front of the government building in Tskhinvali for the past week, and the army and security services. True, heads of the “force” agencies told journalists in Tskhinvali on December 1 they would not use weapons to disperse Dzhioyeva’s supporters, but in South Ossetia, as in the United Kingdom, a week is a long time in politics.

Alla Dzhioyeva addresses her supporters in Tskhinvali last week.Alla Dzhioyeva addresses her supporters in Tskhinvali last week.
​​But there are signs that Dzhioyeva may throw in the towel rather than go ahead with her inauguration. She was quoted as telling journalists in Tskhinvali after the Supreme Court session earlier on December 6 that she may decide to apply for political asylum abroad. One of her most influential backers, Russian free-style-wrestling team champion Dzhambolat Tedeyev, was forced to flee Russia last week after having been summoned to Moscow by Russia’s Federal Security Service and ordered to withdraw his support for Dzhioyeva. His current whereabouts is not known.

Bibilov, for his part, was quoted as saying he “may” take part in the March 25 repeat ballot, but had not yet made a firm decision. Even if Dzhioyeva does not leave South Ossetia, the Supreme Court has already barred her from running in the repeat ballot. But her supporters, who for a brief week exulted in the possibility of supplanting Kokoity’s corrupt and authoritarian regime in a free and democratic vote, may still hit back by boycotting the vote en masse.


South Ossetia